Last Saturday afternoon, during the sunny interregnum between the rain and the snow, my neighbor Ivan banged hard on my front door and stomped on the floorboards of my front porch. (There was no emergency, this just what you do when you have a deaf neighbor with a propensity for turning off the world when she writes and who leans towards procrastination when it comes to replacing household electronic gadgets like flashing doorbell lights for the deaf.)

At some point, I felt the vibration of the wood under my stocking feet as I sat at my desk in the back of the house. I got up, trodding to the front door.

It was Ivan with his sturdy ladder, urging me to get my nose out of a book and slap on some shoes so that we could make our annual sojourn to my attic to bring the Christmas decorations down.

See, Ivan and me, we have an affectionate relationship based on poking fun at each other's ineptitudes. I don't mess with car engines and he doesn't mess with Plato. (Except that of course we do!) For two decades we've been informing one another about how these things work in language that the other understands, and taking each other by the hand through our worlds.

Saturday's discussion post-attic discussion involved an exchange about master cylinders and Fricker's hermeneutical injustice. Such is life in Barelas -- a contact zone for the working class and the creative class. (Not that these categories are mutually exclusive, as anyone who has spent some time in our barrio knows.)

Not surprisingly, at some point we drifted from injustice and brake jobs to the ethics of Christmas trees.

  • Live, dying or ever-evergreen?
  • Corporate or independent dealers?
  • Cibola-cut with a permit or imported?

Now, I'm not going to pretend that I have a definitive answer to these questions, but I do think these are worth thinking about, at least a little bit.  

I'm disinclined to go for the petrochemical version of tree-everlasting, mostly because they're not everlasting and I've spent the last fifteen years or so trying to reduce the amount of new petrochemical plastics that I bring into my home. It's a war that is being waged with mixed success -- much of the petro-originated plastic in my casita is either used or a "hold-your-nose-and-buy" theoretically recyclable compromise. (Freezer food storage, household cleaning products, and personal grooming items are my biggest challenges.) 

But I digress.

After thinking on what kind of tree to erect in one's living room, and what to put on it, the big question looms: when to put up the tree? This is of course, influenced by your decision on the former.

Some folks rush to decorate their homes for Christmas on Thanksgiving weekend. (If you're putting up a tree this early, you're probably not using a live or recently live tree.) While I appreciate the desire to get this chore out of the way, especially having chosen a lifestyle that involves a massive work crunch just as the season hitting its peak (here's a round of applause for all of you who are grading this week and next -- I feel your pain), putting up a Christmas tree in November creates massive cognitive dissonance for me.

Gente who go with live trees every year and who live in places where the outside temperature seriously deviates from the interior (note, this would *not* be southern California, where I spent my salad days) have a only small window of time to bring the tree in for decorating and back outdoors, given the stress that acclimating a tree involves.

Every year I consider this, and every year I discard the option, since I cannot figure out in my yard where I'd plant the trees that would accumulate. I'm lazy, I know, since there have to be other options for these trees. An Uber for live Christmas trees that transplants them in fire-damaged portions of the west would be my preference, but then there's the carbon offset calculation and the challenge of finding native trees that can do double duty as Christmas tannenbaums and fill the appropriate ecological niche.

Ach! So much thinking! It would be easier to be ignorant, no?

My current, go-to Goldilocks option is the a cut-formerly-live tree, where you can get maybe 2-3 weeks of freshly cut spruce scent in your living room if you play your cards right. (Note: I realize there are ethically problematic issues with this option as well, but I told you I didn't have a definitive answer!)

The cut tree option calculation gets a bit more complicated for those of us who have reason to leave our tree up until Epiphany (yo, fellow cultural Orthodoxizens!) and followed by the mad rush to denude the tree in time for the City's annual tree-cycling program.In the not too distant past this had to be done in less than 24 hours, but after the year when a bunch of us raised a stink with the city over its decision to close the treecycling program before Epiphany (the nerve!), they've been more generous with their timing. This year you have until January 10 to strip your tree of lights and geegaws and haul it over to one of the three treecyclying locations.) Thank you, City of Albuquerque Solid Waste Management Department!

Once you've figured out your Christmas tree taxonomy and timing, the next task is to determine what goes on the tree. Lighting is the first question. White twinkle lights? Red chile lights? Red and green chile lights? Red and green *and yellow chile lights? (Seriously? Yellow chile in NM? But it's good to be generous during the season this time of year, and include the banana pepper-loving folk of Burque, no?)

Rainbow lights might be an especially topical thematic choice this year (thank you, SCOTUS). And for the cat-less, toddler-less folk who like to live dangerously, candle fire is worth considering. (Having doused a flaming cat tail more than a few times in my life, let's just say that the aroma of wet burnt cat fur will trump the freshly-cut spruce scent in ways that probably aren't reminiscent of Christmas for most of you.)

After lighting, the great ornament debate commences. First, should you dress your tree in thematic elegance or a hodgepodge of hand-me-downs? I always think that this year might be the year we break out an elegantly clad tree with only handpainted cut tin ornaments from Oaxaca, but every year my heartstrings prevail, and the tree gets hung with heirloom blown glass ornaments from the Old Country (that would be 1960s era Disneyland for my family) and handmade egg carton styrofoam ornaments featuring snapshot faces of first graders long grown into adulthood.

The final decision is garlands and garnishes. Tinsel foil strands have been banned from our adobe for decades, being not so good for curious cats -- perspicacity doesn't always bring them back, you know. Some years we have the energy to thread our way through bowls of cranberries and popcorn while watching a Star Wars marathon; other years we paste and cut stacks of colorful construction paper into interlocked rings that give our tree a whimsical primary school countenance. (This works well with the rainbow theme, fyi.)

And some years there is so much going on that the ornaments get put up a week after the lights are strung (often on Las Posadas de Barelas day as guests are filing in for pre-Posada posole, and once even on Christmas Eve). On these years, garlands and garnishes go by the wayside, and that's okay. We make Christmas just fine without them.

Finally, here's a quasi-pro tip for the mamas and papas who aspire to better organizational skills in 2016. Once your children start amassing a collection of Christmas ornaments, at the end of the season, when the ornaments come off the tree, separate these into boxes for each kid. The lists of what ornaments they received each year from which relatives can be tucked into the box, too. (But you should also email the list to yourself every year with the updates.) This helps enormously decades later when the birds leave the nest in search of their own Christmas trees.

This week I'll be stalking the tree lots, looking for el árbol perfecto to put up in mi casita. Please take a moment to post a photo of your tannenbaum de navidad in the comments!


O abeto, O abeto,
Que verdes son tus hojas.
O abeto, O abeto,
que fieles son tus hojas

Tú no estás verde solo en verano,
sino también en invierno cuando nieva.
O abeto, O abeto,
que fieles son tus hojas.




Views: 204

Comment by Adelita on December 14, 2015 at 10:52am

I have chosen to use a non-living tree - mainly for economic reasons.  I made the purchase once and then don't have to buy a tree every year; they can be very costly. 

That being said, here's a section of my tree.  See the lovely gap?  That's where one of my cats has made a perch to rest and watch us.  

Comment by JeSais on December 14, 2015 at 12:32pm

Fake tree circa 1992, branch missing in the back--  cat climbing incident...  filled with inherited, home-made and hand-me-down ornaments. Colored lights a must. Melekalikimaka, everyone!

Comment by David Alsup on December 14, 2015 at 1:31pm

My brother's house has the most beautiful ceilings. The latillas are the trunks of trees that were scorched when a forest fire overran a christmas tree farm.  I say the city should grind the branches into mulch, strip off the bark and use the trunks for latillas.

Comment by Barelas Babe on December 14, 2015 at 8:37pm

Adelita -- I love the cat gap!

Comment by Barelas Babe on December 14, 2015 at 8:38pm

JeSaid -- another cat incident! Cats and Christmas trees are just a memorable combination, aren't they?

Comment by Barelas Babe on December 14, 2015 at 8:39pm

I'd love to see the trunks used for latillas, too, David. Are the latillas in your brother's house all pinyon wood?

Comment by David Alsup on December 15, 2015 at 8:26am

They are spruce I think. Real uniform, around 3 inches in diameter. The farm was up near Mora.


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