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My father worked his entire career for Alcoa, the aluminum company, and when I was in grade school and absolutely everything my parents did embarrassed me, my father brought home the ultimate artificial Christmas tree.

It was made of aluminum.

The branches were made with thousands of shiny, silver strips, each a little larger than a stick of gum. They came in graduated sizes to be inserted, just so, in the silver-painted wooden broomstick of a trunk.

My father then decorated the tree with red balls, and only red balls, in different sizes: largest at the bottom, medium-sized in the middle and small ones near the top.

The tree didn't have a star. It had a floodlight trained on it, beaming through a revolving red and green color wheel.

For years, my father had wrestled a live tree onto the roof of the car and then into the house, and he had cursed his way through a Saturday afternoon trying to get the stupid tree to stand up straight.

I remember the year we couldn't go into the den without ducking under a series of wires that went from the tree in the living room to the doorknob on the hall closet.

Now that I am a working parent stressed by the added demands of the holiday, I can remember the aluminum Christmas tree with understanding, if not quite fondness.

So if you want to have the live-versus-artificial Christmas tree debate with me, you've got to go some.

According to holiday history, the first artificial Christmas tree appeared in the late 1800s in Germany, where the first real Christmas trees appeared, too. They were made with metal wires covered with goose, turkey or swan feathers dyed green to look like pine needles.

But the really bad news for artificial tree owners is this: In the 1930s, the Addis Brush Co. created the first artificial tree out of, well, the same stuff used to make its toilet bowl brushes.

Not surprisingly, the National Christmas Tree Association says real trees are the eco-friendly thing to do. Buying a real tree does not contribute to deforestation. Think of Christmas trees as a crop and Christmas as harvest time.

Besides, artificial trees may last for years, but eventually their non-biodegradable, petroleum-based selves end up in a landfill, where they remain for a million years.

I have had the same artificial tree for years and years, and I am not ashamed. I bought it after the holidays while shopping with my sister. The clerk read the prices wrong and was charging something like $10 a tree. Cynthia bought seven, and I bought three, all in different sizes.

And I like my trees because you can see the "bark," through the branches. One of the trees is very small and sits on a dry sink in my kitchen, decorated with kitchen ornaments. The other little tree sits beside its larger brother, decorated only in tin candleholders and tiny candles.

The largest tree is tall and thin, and perfect for my little house. It is covered in dozens of ornaments that I have collected over the years and that have so much meaning.

If you are like me and you like the stuffing more than the turkey and the ornaments more than the tree, it doesn't matter if the tree is fake, because the memories are real.

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