Deck the halls, but be careful!

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Wed., Dec. 4, 2013
- Contributed Photo

Somewhere along the line at our house, we started a tradition of selecting and cutting down a fresh Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving. This year, we waited until Saturday so that everyone could take part.

I grew up in an urban setting, where getting the Christmas tree meant traipsing around from dealer to dealer temporarily set up along the sidewalk or in a vacant city lot. It was a challenge to find a tree that was not only the right shape and size, but also one that would not drop its needles before the presents were opened.

It is certainly more fun to be one among many in a family randomly vectoring through rows of trees to find "the one" that stands out as the perfect tree. The chaos that ensues makes no sense at all. But the merriment of the occasion is the perfect way to kick off the season. The nonsensical exercise of comparing one tree to another and then yet another, with still another three rows away and two columns to the left, somehow yields the perfect tree. Finally, that "one" gets cut down and dragged to the car, which is sometimes much farther away than anyone realized.

Inasmuch as it has been a year since any of us last found the perfect tree, let's go over the parameters. Following some guidelines can mean the difference between outright glee, disappointment, or worse yet, tragedy.

Consider the space you have for your tree and the height of your ceiling. Take into account the size of the ornament you perch atop the tree, as well as the depth of your tree stand. Also, don't forget to take a measurement of the diameter of the ring, or opening, into which the tree trunk must fit. Your "perfect" tree might a have hefty trunk, which will not fit into average tree stands.

You might also have to cut some branches from the bottom of the tree to mount the trunk in the stand. Try to visualize what the tree looks like without those branches by holding them down to the ground. It might not look so perfect after all.

If you don’t like the bother of wandering through a field of trees, and choose to buy a tree that someone else cut down, test for freshness any tree you think might fit your height and space needs. Close your fingers around the needles on an outer branch and gently pull toward you. No more than a few needles should come off in your hand. You might also stand the tree up, grab the trunk in the middle, pick it up and thump it down on the ground. That should shake out any debris and dead growth, but if too many green needles also fall off, find another tree.

When you select a tree to cut down, cut it as close to the ground as possible, even though you might have to cut some branches from the bottom to accommodate the tree stand.

Whether or not you get a fresh-cut tree, slice at least a half-inch off the bottom, and stand it in a bucket of water until you are ready to set it up for decoration. Once it is in its stand, check the water level daily until you remove it after the holiday. When the tree stops drinking, start thinking about taking it down.

In addition to the safety tips above, the National Fire Prevention Association offers some other common-sense suggestions. Unplug tree lights before leaving the house or going to bed, keep the tree at least 3 feet from heat sources, and use lights certified by an independent laboratory.

So deck the halls with boughs of holly and a tree fresh from the field. But please, make sure you can enjoy a safe and happy holiday.

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