A Late Christmas Tree May Not Be A Beauty, But It's A Tradition

Stores and families keep putting up their Christmas decorations earlier and earlier each year. But some people still hold out for decorating on Christmas Eve. Martin Kaste has this audio postcard about the difficulties faced in trying to keep Christmas at bay until Christmas.

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For a lot of families, Christmas tree tradition spark household debate. For instance, tinsel or beads; white lights or multicolored; star or angel on top. And for some people, it's not how to decorate the tree. It is when to put it up, early or late, late being now, Christmas Eve. NPR's Martin Kaste falls into that last category.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Yes, I belong to that small and shrinking tribe. We're the ones lurking in the Christmas tree lots at the last possible moment. You guys shutting down already?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Still selling trees.

KASTE: Sill selling trees?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yes.

KASTE: This is the lot near my house. The boss here is familiar with my kind. Is there a discount for last-minute tree shoppers?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Never. We never discount our trees.

KASTE: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Well, because if we discount them, then they'll come back next year and want a discount again. And besides, we don't get no discount.

KASTE: Right. Now, that doesn't really seem fair. I mean, their remaining stock is headed for the woodchipper tomorrow. But this is not about money. It's about tradition. It's about making the tree special. So this year, instead of paying for a non-discounted late tree, I dragged the family to the nearest national forest to cut our own. And the permit's only 10 bucks.

GRACE KASTE: There's the tree.

DOROTHEA KASTE: See, mom.

KASTE: Girls, which way do you want to go to go look for the tree?

KASTE: That way.

KASTE: What could be more Currier and Ives than this?

KASTE: OK, dad. Momma, dad said I could help cut down the tree with that saw.

KASTE: You quickly realize that kids are not suited for the bramble and slash of a working forest. And it didn't take long before I was ready to settle for just about anything that was even vaguely Christmas tree shaped. Timber. I have provided for my family one Christmas tree. That 12-foot baby fir now stands in our living room. And I'll admit, it's not conventionally beautiful. It's a little thin. Looking at it, I could see how maybe, just maybe, my quest had crossed the line separating tradition from stubbornness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "O TANNENBAUMM")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

KASTE: But then I talked to my neighbor, Mario, and he restored my faith in the last-minute tree.

MARIO: So the German tradition is that you put up your Christmas tree on the day or the night before Christmas Eve.

KASTE: In Germany, the tree itself is a kind of gift. He remembers being kept out of the living room until the moment of the big reveal.

MARIO: My dad would bring back a little bell and the Christmas tree would be lit and a few candles would be lit. And we could enter the living room and it was just a really, really special moment.

KASTE: He's doing that for his children now, though he's not sure what'll happen when they grow up and start to notice that their American friends get their trees on Black Friday. Still, there may be hope for our little tribe. Back at the Christmas tree lot, I ran into Imran, a Muslim man who was picking out the first-ever holiday tree for his multi-religious family. He says they're still figuring out their new traditions, but he's leaning toward the late tree. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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