A Proper Fake Christmas Tree

So I did it!

I finally gave in and got a fake Christmas tree. This is quite a feat, mind you, for someone who’s always, up until now, had a real Christmas tree, and who until the age of eighteen even had real candles on it – the kind you only lit on Christmas Eve and admired while the whole family stood around and sang Christmas carols.

So you know things must have been desperate for me to switch to a fake, Chinese-made tree. I had actually made it through our first year in Africa without caving, and found a place selling real trees. But look at the sad specimen we got, and you’ll understand why I had to switch. The branches were thin and drooping so much that only the smallest ornaments could be put on them, and the needles looked odd. Fake, in fact. The only good part about it  was that it was so rubbery that it never shed any needles. Still, so my reasoning went this year, if the only real tree I could get in South Africa looked fake, I might as well get a proper fake tree.

But, as you know, acquiring stuff in South Africa always takes several tries, and it was no different this time. I set out, restless girls in tow, who’d been nagging for a haircut for weeks. After getting the hair done, we went to Checkers where I’d heard they were selling trees at a reasonable price. There were trees alright, but none of the ones displayed seemed to match the boxes stacked underneath them, and most of them were pink, purple or white. I wanted green! And I wanted reasonably tall. The only tall tree for sale in a huge box was not on display, so I now was torn, going back and forth loading it into my cart and unloading it again. The alternative was to wait and check at Game or another place first, but I hate shopping with a passion, as much as I hated the prospect maneuvering my car in and out of tight parking spaces once more, on a rare rainy day in Joburg, without the guarantee I’d be any luckier at the next store.

Such a huge box for such a spindly tree – a feat in itself!

So I bought the box, taped sides and all (which should have made me suspicious), hefted it into my trunk and headed home. I got a sarcastic look from Noisette when he saw the box – no doubt remembering all the times I had poo-pooed such a tree. Let alone the idea having to store yet another big thing in our garage, which these days is very crowded due to the soap box car Jabulani brought home from a school project. But I was undeterred and proceeded to the assembly part. Except, therein was the problem. Not that it was hard. Just three pieces and a stand, all stacked on top of each other, with branches that were on metal hinges pushed down and out. No matter how much I pushed out, though, the tree did not assume tree form. Each piece had approximately the same girth, so that my tree, when fully assembled, looked more like a tall thin barrel than a Christmas tree. In fact, it just sort of ended at the top without a real tip, just an empty metal pole sticking out.

Failed Fake Tree Attempt One – need I say more?

The sight of it made me long for the sad specimen from last year! My guess is that the wrong pieces were in the box. Which is probably why the first buyer had returned it and it was resold after taping the box again. Or maybe someone had cannibalized some of the better pieces, leaving the thin ones. The other thing that bugged me, though you can’t see it in the picture, was that my floor was littered with needles. A fake tree shedding needles, on top of looking ugly? Leave it to me to successfully combine the worst of both worlds. Clearly, this was not going to work. Especially not for R800, which is over US$100. I put everything back in the box and taped it shut once again. One of my next errands will be trying to return it, which is always a special joy in South Africa.

But what to do about a tree? I was sorely tempted to do what a reader suggested on my last post, My Case for Skipping Christmas. In fact, getting a wire baobab sold along the roadside and putting African decorations on it was what I wanted to do all along, but I ran into stiff resistance from my family. “If we can’t have any snow, we at least want a tree!” Just as I was packing the last pieces of Failed Fake Tree Attempt One back into the box, Jabulani came along with inspiration. Call our friend – let’s call her Rosie – he said, she had such an amazing tree at her party, and ask her where she got it. And he was right. I had forgotten about that tree, which we had all admired the weekend before over an equally amazing dinner.

And wouldn’t you know it? We now have her tree standing in our living room. Not just the same kind, which she says she got at Christmastree Specialists, a wholesaler in Bryanston, and I might still go there after Christmas and see if they’ve got any trees on sale. No, we actually have HER tree, which in typical South African generosity she offered for us to come and get that very afternoon, as they were leaving for a long vacation until January (also typical South African) and didn’t need it anymore.

Me assembling Successful Fake Tree Attempt Two. Photo courtesy of Sunshine

Thanks, Rosie, for helping rescue our Christmas! The tree is indeed beautiful, exactly how I had envisioned it. And I could actually grow to love such a tree. It takes a bit of time to assemble – each color-coded branch has to be put in separately – but the huge advantage is that you can bend every twig exactly where you want it, making decorating it a breeze. And no more heavy stands to lug and keep filled with water, no chainsaw for stubborn branch removal, and no mess of getting rid of the tree once you want it out of your house come January.

Sipping a glass of wine and admiring my tree, I am finally starting to feel the first stirrings of the Christmas spirit that has eluded me for so long. To Christmas in Africa!

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