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Slices of Life: A very joyous season, unless you're a tree
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It's the time of year dreaded by spruce and pine alike. People take to the malls to hunt for bargains, but they also take to the grocery store parking lot to hunt for freshly slaughtered Fraser firs. It's open season on evergreen trees and unlike forest critters with legs and camouflage capabilities, the trees have nowhere to hide. I've witnessed the tree victimization practice for decades and typically participate in the violence myself.

Parking lots offer the perfect tree for the taking but some over-achieving families seek to intensify the hunt by carrying through with the actual execution themselves. They venture into the woods, engaging in what they call "quality family time," while Dad just happens to be carrying an axe. Mom and kids loudly and enthusiastically discuss the pros and cons of various specimens: Balsam or blue spruce, tall or short, thin or stout and wasn't last year's tree the best ever? After they traumatize the entire forest with this murderous chatter, Dad takes the axe and takes action. Talk about brutality - right in front of the children (and often family pets).

A quick kill would be bad enough but prolonging the agony is another part of the merriment. After chopping down the innocent tree, Dad drags it out of the woods and mounts it on the top of the family minivan with twine and bungee cords. The family heads for home, traveling 60 miles per hour on the Interstate while the bitter wind whips through the tree's branches, threatening to pull them apart limb from limb. Inside the warm and cozy vehicle the family sings "Oh Christmas Tree" and "Joy to the World." The irony of this is not lost on the Scotch pine riding atop the van.

Once home, the tree is propped in a vertical fashion in the living room where the family bedecks and bedazzles its branches in gaudy fashion with bows and garlands. In an ultimate act of humiliation, a star or other such adornment is ceremoniously placed on the treetop of our simple woodland giant and a mad celebration ensues - for everyone but the tree.

At this point, the overt abuse ends, but the suffering continues as the tree is left to die a slow and tortuous death, the immediacy of which is postponed by daily doses of water administered in quantities just large enough to keep it alive - but barely.

In the coming days, bright and festive boxes and bags are placed at the tree's base. The tree, in its weakened and fragile state goes out on a limb and hopes perhaps the gifts are for him. Reality hits when the family descends upon the living room suddenly one morning and tears the colorful wrapping from the packages. Not one gift is left for the tree and in a final act of torture, the family drinks eggnog and forgets to give the evergreen any water that day.

The tree, sapped of any energy and overcome with despair, begins dropping its needles. In response, the family (usually Dad or Mom) drags the tree out to the backyard where it sits until February or March when, in a blaze of glory, it is burned in a bonfire while the children roast marshmallows over its flames.

"Tis the season of joy - unless you are an evergreen. Then, it's a season of torment and terrible treatment of trees. You probably never thought of it that way. But I bet you would - if you were a tree.

- Jill Pertler's column appears Thursdays in the Times. She can be reached at