The Soapbox Family’s Christmas Tree

Ms Soapbox spent Boxing Day reading, playing Battleship and wondering what to do about the Christmas tree. The Soapbox family has a fake tree. Every couple of years Ms Soapbox yearns for a real one.

Ms Soapbox has had an uneasy relationship with Christmas trees ever since she was a child and a scrawny pine went whump-tinkle-tinkle narrowly missing her cat who was just sitting there minding its own business when the darned thing fell over.

Mr Soapbox loves real trees and brought home many a tree that looked promising on the tree lot (all bound up with string and frozen shut) but turned out to have nothing but “bad” sides when it thawed.

Tired of Charlie Brown Christmas trees and pine needles popping out of the carpet in July, Ms Soapbox told Mr Soapbox it was time to invest in a fake tree.

“Over my dead body,” he said. (Mr Soapbox is a country boy. As a child he’d trek into the forest, fending off squirrels and rabbits, in search of the perfect Christmas tree.)

After considerable whining and snivelling (mine, not his) Mr Soapbox agreed to allow a fake Christmas tree into the house. We bought a department store tree-in-a-box. We poked all its “realistic” limbs into those little holes and decorated it. It looked like a TV antenna having a nervous breakdown. Awful.

The following year Ms Soapbox suggested that perhaps a real Christmas tree would be nice. Mr Soapbox said we already had a Christmas tree and refused to discuss it any further.

So Ms Soapbox went to Golden Acres and selected the biggest fattest tree she could find. A nice young man tied it to the roof of her car.  After he’d gotten over the shock, Mr Soapbox wrestled it off the roof and into the hall.

Then he took a nap.

It was clear to Ms Soapbox that if she hoped to set up this tree anytime soon she’d have to do it herself.

She enlisted the help of the children, “Missy” (age 9) and “Mini” (age 7). They manhandled The Beast into position only to discover that the trunk was cut on a slant and wouldn’t sit properly in the tripod base.

No problem. Ms Soapbox found a hacksaw in the garage. The children were in position holding the tree steady. She started to hack. It was tough going and got even tougher when the hacksaw blade slipped and drove itself into the hardwood floor.

“Oh oh,” gasped the children. “It’s fine,” said Ms Soapbox, “but let’s not tell Daddy.”

Ms Soapbox held the tree upright, Missy, the eldest, screwed the trunk into its tripod base and Mini provided helpful directions like: you’re crooked…you’re still crooked!

When Mr Soapbox awoke he was surprised to see that we’d put up The Beast all by ourselves. But the strain was too much for Mini, the youngest, who blurted out “Mommy hacked the hardwood floor” (wow, three seconds, a new secret-keeping record).

After he’d regained his composure, Mr Soapbox helped us string the lights and decorate The Beast.

All was well until 3 a.m. when we were awakened by a whump-tinkle-tinkle. We flew into the living room, shouting accusations at the dog (he had an iron clad alibi; he was asleep in Missy’s room).

The next day Mr Soapbox tethered The Beast to the wall. It spent the festive season straining against its moorings like the Titanic about to set sail.

A week later we took it down. There was sap everywhere, on the hardwood floor, on the carpet, on the wall, on the ceiling. Was the thing possessed?  

We’ve had a succession of real and fake trees since. Our real American tree came complete with tiny bird’s nest. Our fake American tree was a giant dust magnet and gave Missy hives. Our real Canadian tree smelled wonderful but dried out so fast you couldn’t sneeze in its general direction. Our fake Canadian tree came from China, complete with a combination of fake pine and spruce branches (Frankentree?), a peculiarity we didn’t notice until we got home.

Ms Soapbox thinks it’s time to retire Frankentree. She’s trying to persuade Mr Soapbox to relive his glorious youth by trekking to the tree lot in pursuit of the perfect Christmas tree.

She’ll even go with him to fend off the squirrels and rabbits.


Okay, it’s time for the Ziggy Christmas tradition. In Year One Ziggy hid in the Christmas tree.  In Year Two he flopped into a tragic heap at its base. In Year Three he wore a goofy blue hat. Here he is in Year Four, oblivious to us all as he attacks his Christmas present, a treat from the Drumheller Dinosaur museum (just kidding).

From the Soapbox family to you and your family, we wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and the very best for 2015!!!

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24 Responses to The Soapbox Family’s Christmas Tree

  1. mcneillken says:

    A wonderful story that I loved reading! Thank you for writing it!! – Ken (hope you had a Merry Christmas!)

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Thanks Ken! We had a delightful Christmas–“Missy” clobbered me at Scrabble, “Mini” wiped me out in RummyKub and Mr Soapbox sank my battleship, but to quote Winston Churchill “I shall never surrender!”

  2. Roy Wright says:

    Hmmm…let me set the record straight on the ongoing Christmas tree saga. I always took pride in being able to snag the best tree on southern Vancouver Island as my mother always put her request in during summer. That gave me (and my friends Mark and Rick) ample opportunity during our weekend hikes to identify the perfect tree. One year the request would be for a 6 foot blue spruce, while another year the request would be for a 5.5 foot hemlock. Mark and Rick had similar requests and as we hiked all over, we noted where the best species might be. Christmas holidays required us to recall all of our summer scouting and we would go off a few days before Christmas with our bow saws and bring home the perfect specimen (along with cedar boughs, some wild holly and whatever else might bring the festive season to our houses).
    Our first few Soapbox Christmases were easy…I could go off and cut down a tree on public lands and in fact took Ms. Soapbox out to Metchosin once to help select the perfect tree… no snow on the ground and relatively short hike with my childhood friends and we found a perfect tree…easy peasy!

    Well, we moved to Toronto and realized there was no public lands, which forced us onto corners of shopping centres. We thought we died and went to heaven when we found beautifully formed scotch pines (a tad expensive) and definitely not the Charlie Brown style of tree. Our friends from Metchosin were coming out to visit and we knew they’d be impressed. . .however, as anyone who has decorated a scotch pine knows it is a horrible experience– needles were like a million daggers and by the time I got the lights on, I needed a blood transfusion (but accepted a cold beer as replacement for lost fluids.)

    We started the real vs. phoney trees discussion a few years back and have waffled a few times. However, the present tree, bought at extreme expense before Christmas 2008, was supposed to be the perfect tree. It can go up weeks before Christmas day, it has never caught fire or cratered unexpectedly.

    Incidentally given Ms Soapbox’s penchant for fake trees I got rid of the only decent tree holders we’ve ever had–massive caldrons of plastic that could hold enough water to keep the tree thinking it was alive for 10 days. Following a quick read of the blog I poked into the recess of our house, the garage and other hidden secret spots this trying to find them again, but they’re gone forever.

    I love the smell of cedar in the morning (to shamelessly borrow the Robert Duval line from Apocalypse Now), but there are easier ways to achieve this. Perhaps we can keep our “perfect” and environmentally sustainable and recycled tree, but introduce some cedar boughs and pine wreaths from CUPS to keep the smell of Christmas in the air without taking Ms. Soapbox out to the wilderness where she has exhibited less than a frontier spirit.

    • Mr Soapbox is absolutely right, cedar boughs and pine wreaths from CUPS are a lovely way to bring the smell of Christmas inside, but Ms Soapbox is still filled with longing for a real tree of her very own. (I wish I could find a “big eyes” emoticon).

  3. They do sell “real tree” scent in a spray can, you know! Thanks for the funny post! We have a fake tree and really enjoy how easy it is to bring out and put away… And it saves us taking a axe to the lovely nature we have around us! 😀 I am amazed at the size of the bone Ziggy is chowing down on – makes me glad I have cats with tiny appetites by comparison! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family … And Ziggy!

    • Gosh, I don’t know…spraying the fake tree with a can of fake “real tree” scent feels like I’m making things worse somehow. (Although I do confess to spraying fake “apple cinnamon pie” around once in while).
      Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you, the kids and the cats!

  4. jvandervlugt says:

    Hello Susan. This is a very good post. This Christmas hasn’t really felt like Christmas in our household. Due to family schedules, we were able to get together with our daughters on Christmas Eve, but even our youngest admitted to it not feeling like Christmas. I’m looking forward to New Year’s and the hope of new opportunities.

    I don’t want to come across as a downer. I have two good family memories. I remember our father and I going out to cut down a Christmas tree on our property. Dad and I had found one but we thought we would look for a better one just in case. We didn’t find a better one but we couldn’t remember where we had seen the first tree.

    The second memory is of our mother. When our sister and I would decorate the tree, we always got mom’s approval after putting up the lights and before putting on the decorations. Mom always wanted the lights seen from the living room window. There were a few light strings manipulation by our sister, which Im sure drove her nuts. I find with our parents being in their 80s and dealing with the ups and downs of their health, these memories are even more important. Thank you for a great post that dug up some great Christmas memories for me.

    • Joanna, it’s always unsettling when Christmas comes and goes and you feel like you missed the whole thing. When we lived in the US we used to have two Christmases. We’d celebrate a quiet Soapbox family Christmas around Dec 20th and the next day head for the airport to fly to BC so we could celebrate Christmas with the folks and the sisters, brothers-in-law, nephews and nieces. Oddly enough, the first Christmas felt like the real Christmas and the second Christmas was just one big party! Possibly because we always flew at the worst possible time of the year: crowds, cancelled flights, arriving at 3 a.m. and sleeping in the Vancouver airport because our direct flight from Pittsburgh to Vancouver was re-routed through Houston to avoid a blizzard! Sapped the Christmas spirit right out of you!
      Wow, on that note I’ll change gears and wish you a very happy new year. I’m sure 2015 will bring wonderful opportunities for you and your family.
      All the best, kiddo!

  5. Julie Ali says:

    Hi Susan,

    I love these Christmas tree stories.

    The real Christmas tree sounds much better than the fake ones but it seems a lot of work to go to on a mission seeking specific tree types of varying heights.

    And then after you have found the perfect tree–what is the process manual you have to follow to retrieve it? It seems dangerous to cut down a tree that is bigger than you are. I imagine then the cutting down of the massively skirted tree with an ax. Even if you avoid hitting yourself as you swing the ax, there is that small matter of how and when the tree falls. Imagine the whump as the tree falls on his killer.

    The captive tree, struggling and squirming like any newborn must then have to be tied up and made quiescent— right? I imagine the massive tree being dragged over to the minivan and then what? Do you tie it in place with sturdy ropes? Do you station the dog to sit on it in the back of the minivan? Does it stick out of the back door and hit any car that tailgates your minivan?

    The entire transport home seems fraught with adverse event possibility. It begins to feel like pregnancy and labor all over again. This scene of tree labor will not end when you get it into the house. You have to do the work of putting it upright, dressing it and keeping it alive.

    You have already described what happens when the live tree is taken into the house, kicking and screaming.These critters don’t go down without a fight. No wonder the darn creature is resistant. Imagine being in a forest with your family and then been tree-napped. It’s enough for any law abiding tree citizen of a forest to be poking and prodding with needles and cones.

    I do think a real tree is pretty special but I have never had one. I have had a tree branch covered with cotton balls when we lived in Kuwait, I have had plastic trees in England and in Canada— I have my indestructible Salvation Army tree that I got cheap because older boy was such a charmer (he still is a charmer but we don’t get offers for cheap Christmas trees now that he is 19 years old).

    Your present fake tree sounds very obedient but somehow it must be rather placid cow nature since it neither results in venipuncture incidents with acute blood loss that requires alcoholic IV stabilization of victims—or furtive damage to wood floors.

    The fake tree story is great however, I imagine Mr. Soapbox’s childhood endearing memories will be sufficient to result in some live tree stories in the future. The bucolic nature of his description of going out to public lands and getting a live tree of specifications that are rather detailed ——- (One year the request would be for a 6 foot blue spruce, while another year the request would be for a 5.5 foot hemlock. )——–makes me almost converted to the idea of giving up our moribund Salvation Army fake tree which we will bequest in any case —to older boy as the only worldly goods he will inherit from us –and go rush out right now and find a live tree. But it’s too late. Hubby has already packed the fake tree away in a box deep in the basement. The dream of a live tree is squashed. Maybe next year.

    I will wait until you get one and see if the tree attacks you. The live tree story that I read next year will decide the fate of the fake Salvation Army tree in the basement.

    Merry Christmas!

    P.S. Ziggy seems very content. I got a photograph of Molly (my mother-in-law’s dog) who looks like Ziggy except she is brown in color; she –unfortunately did not have a bone the size of Kansas for Christmas.

    • Julie, your “tree-napping” analogy is perfect! No wonder these tree cause nothing but grief once they’re dragged into the house. It’s a strange custom when you think about it; whatever possessed someone to say “I know, let’s chop down a gigantic tree, haul it inside and festoon it with lit candles and paper wreaths.”

      Your Kuwaiti tree branch covered in cotton balls is ingenious. One of my FB friends decorates a palm tree every year. I’ve seen photos, it’s very nice. Speaking of celebrating Christmas in faraway lands, I read an article in the Economist that said that China has taken up Christmas in a big way. Apparently there’s a booming market for tree ornaments, with Santas playing saxophones being the most popular. Go figure.

      Merry Christmas Julie. Enjoy the holidays with your family. If the last few months are any indication we’re going to have a lot to write about and agitate for in 2015.

  6. Brent McFadyen says:

    Ms. Soapbox are you sure you are not Stuart McLean in disguise as Susan Wright?
    Lovely story

    • Brent, what a lovely compliment! Actually Missy (now 30) told me I’d gotten a fact wrong. Apparently that nice young man at Golden Acres didn’t tie The Beast to the roof of the car, he shoved it into the back of car and it almost flopped out on the way home. And Mini (now 28) “thanked” me for telling the world she can’t keep a secret. I figure it’s the least I can do for the world. 🙂
      Merry Christmas to you and your family. All the best in 2015!

  7. ABCanuck says:

    Great story and great comments!

    Christmas without a real tree, and its fragrance, just isn’t Christmas.

    Studies in Japan have shown the volatiles given off by conifer forest have such a beneficial, relaxing effect, office workers are routinely taken out for walks in such woods to relieve stress.

    i have had very good luck at, of all places, Home Depot. The tree is tightly bundled, keep it that way until sawn off (outdoors and with a proper saw Miss Soapbox!) and in your stand, then unravel the twine, and voila, a perfect tree!

    We have a very old, rusty stand with shaky legs and four tightening screws that are all stripped, and though I swear to replace it every year (I never follow through because of all the Christmases that stand has seen), it never fails to hold the tree upright and has never allowed it to tip over.

    • Volatiles…that’s got to be the best argument I’ve heard yet in support of real Christmas trees. I wonder if that’s why cats find Christmas trees so alluring. Or maybe it’s just their delight at someone dragging in the biggest scratching post they’ve ever seen!
      And Home Depot…who knew. I’ll pass this suggestion along to Mr Soapbox. He’s heartbroken about the loss of his favourite tree stand. It truly was a caldron and far superior to those ridiculous tripod things with a tin can that’s barely big enough for the tree trunk and three teaspoons of water.
      You should hold on to your rusty old tree stand as long as you can. If it’s never allowed a tree to go whomp it’s worth it’s weight in gold.
      Have a wonderful Christmas ABCanuk. I look forward to tackling 2015 with you and the gang!

  8. Jim Lees says:

    Perhaps it’s time to take the ‘Soapboxes’ to a beach somewhere for XMas, where they decorate Palm trees, all of which look exactly the same…..

  9. OK that was funny! Years and years ago Mr Soapbox and I flew to Hawaii on Boxing Day. Notwithstanding all the exotic trees decorated with candy canes and angels as far as we were concerned Christmas over, gone, kaput. and it was Summertime. Yipee!!!!

  10. Elaine Fleming says:

    Mild- mannered Ziggy is a major carnivore in a dark wooly coat! How perfect Santa tuned in to that.

  11. Carlos Beca says:

    Another year is almost over which means that we are just completing one more rotation around our great Sun. It feels that it was just the other day that we were making comments about Christmas 2013.
    Where I was born, we did not have spruces or pine trees and so there was no debate about it. Most people had a fake one, except in those days they were not made in China. My parents never had one. My idea of Christmas was always my grandparents coming over with other members of our family for a great lunch together. This was always on the 25th. My Dad profoundly disliked the gift exchange and so that day the gifts where desserts and cookies and whatever else people were known for being good cooks at. One of my uncles was definitely very funny so we knew that sometime during those hours we would witness one of the funniest moments of the whole year. Rarely we had the bad moments because my Mom and Dad made sure those possible cases were not invited in the first place.
    I am glad that you had a good time and so did Ziggy. We also have 3 of those friends and their names are Oscar Wilde, Lucille Ball and Finnegan.
    Today is the last day of 2014 and I would like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year of 2015 and that we can all enjoy discussing more issues in peace and with respect as we have done quite well I think.
    Thank you Susan for your great insight and always a pleasure to read posts.

    • Carlos, thank you for sharing your Christmas story! Your father had the right idea. Exchanging desserts and cookies with the people you love is far more meaningful than handing out silly but expensive gifts bought on the fly in the middle of the Christmas mob. Your uncle sounds like the perfect guest for Christmas dinner.

      I too am looking forward to 2015. I’m so grateful to have readers like you and the others who bring their insights to the Soapbox and share them with wit and respect. 2015 is going to be a tumultuous year for Canada and Alberta. We’ll have a lot to talk about!

      PS Oscar Wilde, Lucille Ball and Finnegan–great names!

  12. david swann says:

    Hilarious family tradition that resonates with this family; the difference is that neither Laureen nor I will take the trek for a real tree, despite the annual scorn and hilarity from the children (and now, grandchildren!!) Thankyou for exposing this highly charged experience – I’d never have the courage!! Best of the New Year and thanks for many extraordinary blogs to wake us all up about the political machinations of this derelict one-party state…

    • You’re very welcome David! And thank you for continuing to represent the people in a province where the PC government thinks “public” service and “corporate” service are one and the same thing.

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