branch outO Christmas tree, O Christmas tree. Yes, I’m talking about that tree you’ve been enjoying for weeks and have already taken down or are about to take down. Let me share a bit about our beloved Christmas trees before we start branching out in 2024.

Did you know that German settlers first introduced Christmas trees in the United States in the early 1800s as tabletop trees that rapidly become popular as floor-to-ceiling sizes? Christmas trees randomly taken from local forests in the U.S. were first commercially sold in 1851. In 1853, President Franklin Pierce brought the first Christmas tree to the White House.

Around 1883, Sears Roebuck & Company began selling the first artificial Christmas trees. Trees with 33 limbs sold for 50 cents. If you wanted to splurge on the 55-limb tree, you’d spend a whopping $1.00! Get out!

The Girl in Charge

I wonder how much my parents spent on our four-foot tabletop tree. It probably came from the Sears catalog back in the early ‘60s or maybe the late ‘50s right after my parents married. All I know is that as a young girl through my college years, I was the box carrier/card table putter-upper/tree trunk assembler/tree decorator/light string untangler/ornament fixer/tree branch bender/light bulb replacer in our house. And I LOVED IT! Every December, I was in charge of turning our living room by the wide front window into the landing spot for Christmas presents come Christmas Eve (hey, we didn’t have a chimney, so we didn’t care how Santa wiggled his way into our rancher!).

Back then, I had no concept of our tree being “fake” or artificial. To me, it was what Christmas trees were in our small town. I honestly don’t remember anyone having a real tree in their home. We lived in rural southeast Nebraska where pine trees are not exactly naturally growing and stores at the time did not sell them. So plastic trees from Sears or the local hardware store were normal.

Learning New Traditions

An artificial tree was all I knew until I moved away from home in 1982. My first Christmas in Southern California my roommates took me out shopping for REAL tree. I was blown away that you could pick out a fresh-cut, pine-scented tree all daintily rolled and ready to put in our vehicle. A few minutes later, we could prop it up in a tree stand and watch its gorgeous branches unfurl and stretch out just waiting for an array of ornaments and lights. Of course, only had a couple ornaments to add to our Christmas since I was fresh out of college and my mom gave me a few of her favorites. My roommates were older and had been at this a few years. I was also introduced to all WHITE LIGHTS. I grew up with all COLORED LIGHTS. My oldest roommates insisted on all WHITE lights and so I actually have carried on that tradition.

For 30-plus years of picking out a real tree in my homes in California and Colorado, I must confess, this year, I finally, reverted back to an artificial tree. Sigh. The cost of real trees tripling in recent years and lugging a tree up so many steps in my home, cleaning up dead needles, etc., finally pushed me to be practical. Here’s the takeaway to my O Christmas tree story…

Discovering My Problem

As I was putting up my new just-out-of-the-box tree this year, I was starting to grumble and turn into Mr. Grinch. I noticed wayyyyyyy too many bare spots. Are you kidding me!! I bemoaned. I started poking and pulling and prodding at the fuzzy branches. I stood back and squinted. I poked, pulled and prodded more branches. Sigh. This seven-foot tree looked like a gangly Charlie Brown tree.

And…suddenly…I discovered MY problem. I had not fully unfolded the branches. Each branch had several offshoot branches. My how artificial Christmas tree branches have improved since the 1960s! The branches I locked into our family Christmas tree trunk were straight and didn’t bend. Today’s artificial Christmas tree branches allow for flexibility and creative bending and angling to hold various sizes and weights of ornaments. Modern-day trees look so much fuller and real.

Your Year to Branch Out

As I have enjoyed my new real-to-me tree this holiday season, I have come away with an invaluable lesson to share with you. As we approach 2024, let’s not forget to give ourselves some space and let our branches stretch out. Forget a calendar that’s too overcrowded with activities and must-dos. We were created to enjoy both productive work alongside the beauty of recreation and rest.

When we’re feeling a bit bunched up and congested this coming year, perhaps it’s time to step back and get a better angle on our life. Maybe it’s time to get back to our roots and take a walk down memory lane or flip through old photos albums or think back to our Christmas trees growing up. I know I can always count on a chuckle or two just thinking about this Christmas and how I thought I bought a gangly artificial Charlie Brown tree.

So whether you prefer a real or artificial Christmas tree or even no tree at all, perhaps 2024 is your year to truly branch out with better balance and more fun. I’ll be right there with you!