What A Christmas Tree Salesman Taught Me About Christmas
December 22, 2004
On Dec. 11, 2004, I turned 41 years of age. The very next day, I bought my first Christmas tree.
Now it may not seem to some that buying a Christmas tree should be that big of a deal. After all, according to the
National Christmas Tree Association (yes, there is such a group), Americans bought an estimated 24 million real
Christmas trees this past holiday season, making it the second year in a row the number of trees purchased went up from
the previous year.
Until this year, however, I had not bought one. In fact, until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even celebrate Christmas at
Didn’t get a tree, didn’t send out Christmas cards, didn’t buy presents for my family and friends.
Instead, year after year, I simply pretended Christmas didn’t exist.
And for years, my friends—and, later, my wife—put up with my little seasonal eccentricity.
They didn’t have much choice, seeing how I would regularly rail against what I saw to be the hypocrisy of the holiday.
Thrust a gaily-colored Christmas cookie in my direction, and you’d probably hear me rant about how ludicrous I thought
it was that people got together to celebrate a season of fellowship and kindness only once a year.
Buy me a present, and you’d likely hear how I thought supporting multinational corporations that made billions in
profits from sweatshop labor was morally wrong.
Try to corner me under the mistletoe after a few too many eggnogs and you’d run the risk of getting a lecture about the
gender inequalities inherent in dominant social structures of late-stage capitalist societies.
OK, OK—very few people actually tried to corner me under the mistletoe. But you get the idea.
All of that may be changing, however. This year, I have embarked on a journey to make peace with Christmas.
Some of this is due to my wife, who, having suffered through enough holiday seasons with her collection of antique
Christmas ornaments safely tucked away in boxes, finally decided to make me confront what I was avoiding.
Some of it is due to the numerous friends who love me enough to ignore my embarrassment at receiving presents and buy
them for me anyway.
And some of it, thankfully, has come from the realization that just because millions of Americans pervert the true
meaning of Christmas for themselves doesn’t mean that I have to.
Millions of people may celebrate Christmas each year by going on an orgy of crass commercialism, blaspheming a religious
holiday by decorating their lawns with inflatable Jesuses and using the idea of Santa Claus as a bargaining chip to
control their unruly children, but that doesn’t mean I have to do the same.
Nor do I have to spend the season trolling the aisles of some brightly-lit shopping mall, desperately searching for the
perfect gift while listening to piped-in Christmas carols and running up credit card bills.
And I don’t have to feel guilty because I won’t squeeze myself into an overpriced airline seat for hours on end to visit
relatives I don’t like, or berate myself for not getting around to writing thank-you cards for presents I didn’t like or
Instead, I’ve come to realize that Christmas can be what I want it to be, and not what others think it should.
That means if I want Christmas to be nothing more than a quiet holiday of good friends, good food and a reflection on
blessings received—along with dreaming of a more just, secure and hopeful world of the future—then that’s what I’ll do.
And buying the tree was an important first step.
As it turned out, an early test of my newfound belief came only a few minutes after my wife and I stepped onto the
Christmas tree lot, tucked away in the back of our local flower and garden store.
While we were looking at trees, a young man who worked there came up to us, bright smile on his face and cheerful lilt
in his voice. Dressed warmly against the biting December wind, he seemed to know an awful lot about trees and soon
became our own personal tree shopper.
Picking up tree after tree, he helpfully spun them around, showing exactly how much room each type of tree would take up
in our front room.
When we couldn’t decide, he took us back again and again to those trees we thought we liked, answering our basic
questions about how to care for them without rolling an eye or looking like he was only interested in getting to the
Finally, after almost half an hour, we were stumped, unable to choose between the Noble Fir and the Scotch Pine.
Right around the time I began to think he was going to push us to buy the more expensive Noble Fir, which he described
as “rare” and “beautiful,” he gave us that look that made it seem like he was going to tell us a secret.
“Uh-oh,” I said to myself. “Here it comes—the sales pitch.”
“You guys look like you’re cold,” he said, putting the tree down and pointing toward the warm store across the parking
“Why don’t we take a break? There’s coffee and cookies inside. And I’ll be here when you’re ready. No reason to get
frostbite just to buy a tree, now, is there?”
And, at that moment, I felt some of my cynicism begin to melt away.
Looking him straight in the eye, I believed him. To my surprise, someone was being nice to us right around Christmas,
and he wasn’t worried about whether we would buy something from him.
Instead, he just wanted us to be happy and warm.
And there were cookies involved.
After all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Mark Anderson is based in Chicago. Visit him at www.thesentimentalist.com