Sam Cook: Tree toppling tradition takes odd turnThere are lots of ways to get your Christmas tree. You can drive to a tree farm in the country and pick out a living tree. And then there’s my friend John, whose family tradition is to go out and — this is true — shoot a Christmas tree.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
It’s a little odd when you think about this whole Christmas tree deal.
Apparently the Christmas tree tradition goes back to the 15th or 16th century, when evergreens — long a symbol of eternal life — were decorated for the holiday. Killing trees to symbolize eternal life seems a bit of a contradiction to me, but maybe I’m just odd that way.
Whatever the origin of this tradition, millions of us go out every year to acquire a perfectly good tree that was happily whiling away its hours with an intact root system mere days earlier. Then it was summarily whacked and stacked, and perhaps slipped into a green net stocking along the way.
It surprises me a little bit that I buy into this mass execution of trees. I tend to like trees of the rooted variety, standing tall or even short, serving as homes for saw-whet owls and pileated woodpeckers and chickadees.
But every year, we drive a few blocks to a neighbor’s garage, where the whole world smells like balsam fir. We select a tree that seems to have all the requisite features. That is, it’s dead but still green. We write a check and tie the tree on the minivan.
There are other ways to get your tree, of course. You can drive to a tree farm in the country and pick out a living tree. Someone will cut it down for you, and you’re on your way. This seems especially appropriate when the kids are little, and the whole family gets to walk up and down the rows of the plantation, picking just the right tree.
And then there’s my friend John, whose family tradition is to go out and — this is true — shoot a Christmas tree. He takes his 12-gauge along, and when he sees the right tree, he blasts it.
“It’s surprising how many shots it takes, even at 6 inches away, to bring down a Christmas tree with birdshot,” he said.
He’s been shooting the family tree for years.
“There’s really no reason to do it anymore,” he said the other day.
Which made me wonder what the reason was in the first place.
“I didn’t have a saw,” he said. “I was out grouse hunting one day and saw the perfect tree.”
So, he shot it and brought it home.
“Unfortunately, it was a swamp spruce, and by Christmas, there was nary a needle left on it,” he said.
For years, he has taken the whole family along for the annual tree slaughter. He’s passing on the tree-shooting tradition to his daughters. It’s pretty easy to fast-forward this to a scenario a few years hence when one of the daughters and her newlywed husband are getting ready for their first holiday season together.
NEWLYWED HUSBAND: “Well, I suppose we should go buy a Christmas tree, eh?”
NEWLYWED WIFE: “Buy a tree? Why would we buy a tree when we can shoot one? Get me my 12-gauge.”
This all reminds me of the old expression, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will shoot Christmas trees.”
Is that really the kind of country we want to live in?
SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/samcookoutdoors.