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The Perfect Christmas Tree

I have been selling Christmas trees for more than two decades now, and throughout that time I have come to realize just how important they are to our well-being. So, I would like to share a few memories of those botanical icons that we insist on dragging into our homes and decorating for each December 25th.

Family Photo - Xmas Tree Christmas 1961

Personally, I have lived with both artificial and real trees throughout my sixty Christmases, and I have very fond memories of both. Being born in the Yukon Territory, Christmas trees were simply cut from the nearby bush, as you can plainly see in the photo of my first Christmas with my mom. When we moved down south to Winnipeg, my dad decided to buy an artificial tree for convenience — little did he know of the great struggles yet to come. It was plastic and had to be assembled branch by branch (even the stems required stacking), all of which were colour-coded with little foil tags. Over the years, these ungrateful tags managed to disappear one by one, until my dad was forced to lay all the branches out on the floor (covering most of the living room) to match the lengths. Those early plastic trees also cracked over time and the foliage often melted onto the large incandescent Christmas lights common to the sixties.

Mike and his siblings in front of a Christmas tree

Needless to say, it got to the point where my dad dreaded the annual artificial tree assembly, as no amount of whisky sours (pre-emptive pain relief), duct tape, and picture wire could make that thing stand straight. I can still remember its last curtain call quite vividly. We had guests and one of dad’s best friends was sitting on the couch with a cocktail in hand, immediately beside the tree. The incident began with the distinct twang of the two support wires breaking, followed by the slow-motion toppling of this fully-decorated tree right into the gentleman’s lap. This final bow resulted in my mother losing many of her prized glass ornaments, my dad having to mix our guest a much stronger drink, and the tree finally winning the war of wills and being allowed to remain in pieces from that day forth.

This is why I have always been more of a "real tree" man in my own Christmas celebrations. Our first family tree was a rather ugly Balsam Fir that I had purchased for a grand total of eight dollars. It adorned our tiny Winnipeg apartment and still managed to lose a lot of needles by Christmas, despite the central heating being so poor that we often had ice crystals forming on the inside of the windows. Needless to say, it was unceremoniously discarded in the trash on Boxing Day but went missing shortly afterward. This was a total mystery to both my wife and me until we realized that someone celebrating Orthodox Christmas (January 7th) might have scooped it up. Sure enough, come January 10th that ugly tree was back in the garbage with not a needle in sight, but at least it was well-loved and had managed to celebrate two Christmases, which is no small feat.

We now have more ornaments than any one tree can hold, but I am loath to part with any of them, as each encapsulates a Christmas memory. There are the frosted Mugho Pine cones that I gathered at an abandoned Texaco station and painted in our basement suite back in 1986 when we first moved back to B.C. and couldn’t afford much in the way of decorations. The tiny bird feeders made from gallon milk jug lids, just one of many of our three daughters' elementary school creations. A brass watering can given to me by a kind landscape customer. Or even the leg-lamp ornament my kids jokingly gifted since I had made them watch my favourite seasonal movie A Christmas Story over and over again.

Mike's daughters on Christmas morning 1992

But I had never fully realized just how important Christmas trees are to our well-being until about twenty years ago. It was late one dark afternoon when an elderly gentleman and his wife walked into the nursery. When I approached them to see if they needed help, he asked if they could just look as they no longer put up a tree. As they walked away, his wife said nothing and looked at me with a frightened expression as her husband gently took her hand and led her up to tree after tree. He then began to reminisce about their many Christmases together and with each tree came another memory from years past. It was then that I realized that she might be suffering from some sort of dementia and that this was his way of bringing her back from the fog of this terrible disease. They stayed about half an hour and as they left, he walked up to me to say thank you. Just then, his wife glanced at me and smiled with a presence of mind that told me that she had remembered something, even if it was for the briefest of moments, and they left the garden centre arm in arm basking in the memories that they had made together.

Mike helping to load 16' Christmas tree

So, the perfect Christmas tree isn’t always the most beautiful, the tallest, or straight-stemmed, it is the one that we make our own and in doing so, reminds us of the time we spend together. At Amsterdam Garden Centre, we are proud to be a part of those memories and on behalf of the owners, Lindsay and Jason, as well as all the staff, we want to wish you a healthy and happy holiday season.

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