Artificial Christmas trees have come a long way. My wife and I had one of the early ones one year. One year was enough.

  When the holidays were over, we left it in the trash. The reason our artificial tree ended up in the trash was that it was patently ugly. It looked like it had been made with green pipe cleaners and smelled like shoe polish. No amount of tinsel, lights or ornaments could compensate for its existential hideousness.

  After that thankfully short-lived experiment, the trouble it took to have a real tree seemed worth it. The pipe-cleaner tree made us disdainful of artificial trees. People who had artificial Christmas trees, the reasoning went, would also have artificial flowers or garden gnomes that looked like the Oak Ridge Boys.

  “Wouldn’t have one if somebody gave it to us,” we agreed.

  A couple of years ago, my attitude toward artificial trees began to soften.

  “I was looking at some artificial trees at Home Depot the other day,” I said to my partner in artificial-tree hating. “They didn’t look too bad.” 

  “You’re right,” she replied. “I’ve seen a few that actually looked pretty good.”

  That same year, one of our daughters went to Home Depot and bought the very tree that had impressed me. We had to admit that with  decorations on it and colorful gifts beneath its boughs, it looked pretty darned good.

  The annual ordeal of having a real tree, meanwhile, seems to grow more  arduous with every passing year.

  First it’s the challenge of finding just the right tree. Our search took us to the mountains one year to cut one. You’d think that with all those thousands of trees up there, it would be easy to find one that was perfect.

  You’d be wrong. The trees in the forest were too tall, too short, too skimpy or had split or crooked trunks. We spent the day tromping around in knee deep snow and came home with sore muscles, frozen fingers, and no tree.

  The commercially grown trees sold in town look a lot better.  They seem to get more expensive every year, though. With what we’ve paid for real Christmas trees over the years, we could have bought a Christmas tree farm.

  Let’s say you find the perfect tree, or at least an okay tree. Then you have to get it home. Without a truck, this involves shoehorning it into the trunk or putting it on top of the car and tying it with twine. One year the twine came loose and the tree fell off of the car on the way home. It was a nice tree, too.

  Until a VW bus ran over it.

  Experts say to cut the bottom off of your tree’s trunk and soak it in water overnight  to keep it fresh and green though the holidays. (This assumes that the tree wasn’t cut in August.) I tried for years to do the job with a chainsaw, but the stupid thing wouldn’t ever start. My chainsaw has started maybe half a dozen times in all the years I’ve owned it. The alternative was my hand saw, which is a saw in name only. It more closely resembles a dull file. I’ve burned enough calories cutting off Christmas tree trunks to work off a quart of eggnog and a Martha Stewart fruitcake. 

  Duly soaked, the tree has to be squeezed through the front door, leaving enough needles on the porch and floor to fill a wastebasket and begging the question of whether the tree actually was cut in August.

  Once in the house, the tree must be muscled into its stand, rotated to show its best side and made to stand up straight rather than leaning in  one direction or another. This is when you’re apt to discover that the tree that looked great on the lot has deformed trunk that makes getting it to stand up straight almost impossible.

   The tree-balancing act at our house typically has involved placing cardboard, magazines or scraps of wood to serve as shims under the legs of the stand, a delicate procedure accompanied by spirited cursing.

  One memorable Christmas, with the tree finally up and decorated, we adjourned to the kitchen to celebrate. All was well with the world, until the sound of a crash came from the living room.

   Molly, the family dog, had knocked the tree over.

   If there is a more jarring holiday sight than your Christmas tree lying on the floor in a sea of flickering lights and broken ornaments, it doesn’t come to mind.

  I’m happy to report that Molly, may she rest in peace, did not spend Christmas in the dog pound that year.

  But it was a tempting idea.

  Taking the tree down can be almost as frustrating as putting it up. It has to be cut in half so the recyclers will take it (dull saw, more cursing) and wrestled from the stand, with which it is formed a more or less permanent attachment. Our approach to solving this problem has been for me to hold  the tree while my wife holds the stand, then engage in a monumentally awkward tug of war with what little is left of the stand’s murky water spilling onto the carpet.

  Squeezing the tree back out the front door results in a trail of needles numbering in the thousands. Even after repeated vacuuming and sweeping, I invariably find a needle or two as late as March.

  Thankfully, that won’t happen this year. The new artificial trees look so much better than the old one that we finally bought one. It was easy to put up, looks great and doesn’t have to be watered all the time like the real ones do.

  It has its own lights and stand and is perfectly straight – no magazine-shims needed.

  It’s lighter than a real tree, too. The segments come apart for easy storage and don’t weigh much so they’re easy to handle. If the tree was outside, a strong breeze would blow it over.

  Molly would have loved it.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@hotmail.com.