I decided not to write a Christmas letter this year, because I really feel that, for better or worse, Facebook has killed the oft-dreaded Christmas Letter, as we know it. Our friends and family and everyone else on the planet is fully aware what we’ve been up to this year, as few families have saturated social media like The Blanchards in 2015. However, like the proverbial tree that fell in the forest, my family feels like the year didn’t happen if I don’t write a Christmas letter..
If you are living under a rock (ie: not on Facebook) you may not know that Emilie, 29, got married in October. The Newlywedmans are now nestled into their first home, working non-stop to build their future. Occasionally, she tries to garner a little sympathy, by telling me and Jimmy how much they both work (24/7, Christmas Day, blah, blah, blah) but, when we were their age, we trod shoeless, over snow-covered hills to work on weekends and holidays, so her pleas fall upon deaf ears. On a positive note, she astutely pointed out the other day that she has noticed her “favored child status” with her Dad has soared ever since she ‘went off his books.’
Not to be outdone in the approval rating polls, a couple of weeks after Emilie’s wedding, Mollie, 26, was surprised with an engagement ring from her boyfriend-gone-fiancé, Jace. We secretly arranged to fly up there to meet them to celebrate, just hours after he popped the question. Fortunately, she said “yes,” or it would’ve been an awkward 3 days. They are both in their second year of law school in Manhattan, she at Fordham and he at Columbia. As if New York weren’t far enough away, they plan to study a semester in Amsterdam this Fall. They both graduate in May 2017 and will marry shortly after.
Gracie, 20, is studying Journalism at the University of Arkansas. Out of our 5, she is, without question, the most interesting blend of me and Jimmy. And, I’m not talking about facial features. After being, ‘Home for the Holidays’ for all of 24 hours, she had her fill of family and decided to dash down to Dallas for a night on the town with friends. I received an SOS text before she left, saying she was in my closet and needed assistance putting an outfit together. I received highest praises from her after the ensemble was cobbled together from:
-some pants of mine that I bought and haven’t worn yet
– a top she hadn’t yet seen that was supposed to be a Christmas present
-my cheetah boots
-finished off with 2 necklaces and a bracelet (all mine)
As she admired herself in the mirror, she said, “Thanks Les, you’re Clutch!” Could any mother ask for more than being “clutch” in a fashion crisis? I’ll take it.
James is in his Senior year at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School. He divided his time this year between school, friends, football and his adorable girlfriend Annie. I went upstairs to clean his bathroom the other day, and all 6 light bulbs in both sections of the bathroom were burnt out. I couldn’t see any grime, mold or mildew for the darkness, and really wanted to pretend it was sparkly clean, but the scent contraindicated. As I clambered up onto the counter top with fresh bulbs, I wondered to myself,
“How does he manage to see himself in the mirror when he gets ready for school in the mornings?”
But then, I realized, when you’re a young manly buck of 18, you don’t need a few watts of light, or a mirror to affirm what you already know to be true.
Sometimes Jimmy and I look at one another and wonder if we were foolish or just plain crazy to have 5 children. It’s tremendously validating that Tommy is our favorite. It’s really hard not to not feel like “practice makes perfect!” I casually remarked to Gracie the other day how great he is – smart, and kind, with an unparalleled work ethic, all topped off with red hair. She responded, “He’s only 15, give him some time! He may disappoint you yet.”
He did actually try my patience a bit today. After weeks of me asking him what he wanted for Christmas and him insisting that he, “didn’t need a thing,” I went ahead and spent the per-person Christmas gift money on some school clothes for him. He notified me by text TODAY that he needs an X-Box. Apparently, it can put one behind the 8-ball socially, if you don’t have the same gaming system as your friends. Of course I’m going to make sure he gets it. Gingers don’t let Gingers get in a bind socially; we have each other’s backs. It’s a thing.
Jimmy and I went out for dinner last night to celebrate our 31st anniversary. We sat at the bar at Mahogany and gently debated who has had the harder job (greater “Ministry”) being married to the other. We never really settled it. We may never. But, we definitely agreed that if we ever allowed a camera in our “colorful” home to watch us co-parent, settle financial issues, navigate key marital moments and discuss world events, we would take the entire Kardashian Empire down. No one would find them interesting up against us.
When my children head back to their various schools and universities, after the Thanksgiving Holiday, I just need a few things to get my life back on track: a maid, a diet, and a budget.
Truth be told, I’m sure I’m exaggerating about the maid. When they stuff all their piles of junk back into their cars, and I can actually see my counter tops and floors again, I will probably realize that I don’t really need a maid. I cleaned before they arrived, so technically, nothing got dirty; I just need to unload and reload the dishwasher a few hundred times, and do a few mountains of laundry, that I couldn’t do while I was busy doing theirs. I know you’re probably thinking I shouldn’t do their laundry, but when I did Gracie’s laundry the other day, I found tons of things that were mine. BONUS! I felt rich-It was like being paid, albeit with things I already own, like leggings, jeans, my favorite running socks. Still, it was oddly rewarding.
I guess it isn’t really my kids’ fault that I need a serious diet and a Personal Trainer after they visit. But, it kind’ve is. Adult children fall into a weirdly ambiguous category when they come home for the holidays. They’re your kids, but they’re also your guests. I feel compelled to entertain them when they are home, even more than I did when I was raising them. And, like everyone else, I tend to entertain best around food. Whether we prepare it at home or dine out, eating is our chief source of entertainment. I’m sure right about now you’re wanting to tell me how, in your family, you play board games and charades. We do that too, we just do it with baked goods, creamy martinis, Baileys poured into hot cocoa. Jimmy and I have found that we enjoy our adult children infinitely more when we share a cocktail with them.
When Gracie and I weren’t laying around eating, drinking, stalking pictures of her friends on Instagram or watching documentaries on Netflix, we were shopping. I was really motivated to have her help me buy toys for the two precious children we “adopted” for Christmas. I think it’s good to have one’s offspring participate in this activity. It builds character. The first day we went out, we never got within a mile of a toy (or character, for that matter) Before we knew it, it was getting dark, we were exhausted and it was time to go home and shake up some martinis. We did better the next day, Target was our first store and we managed to get every item checked off the list before we beat a hasty path to the boutiques. We squeezed in some regular Christmas shopping for our own family as well. Gracie likes to shop one-on-one with me, due to the “Shopping Principle of 1:1,” which simply states that, “Mom will buy one thing for us, for every one thing she buys for others!”
We managed to blow through all the money I had allocated for Christmas before the Thanksgiving turkey was even thawed.
I really think all I need is about 6-8 weeks to get my life back to normal. With minimal effort, I should be able to get caught up around the house, drop 5 lbs and restore positive fiscal relations with Jimmy and Citibank Visa.
The only glitch is that I don’t have that much time. My kids will be back in less than 3 weeks for Christmas. And Christmas vacation lasts way longer than Thanksgiving. In fact, sometimes Thanksgiving feels like a practice holiday, to remind me what it’s going to be like having everyone home for a month!
To keep my spirits bright, as she packs to leave this morning, Gracie is humming a Christmas Carol – And I am inserting my own lyrics:
I’ll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Please have dough,
so we can go
on a shopping spree…
Christmas Eve will find us
Sharing an alcoholic drink
I’ll be home for Christmas…
…Sooner than you think!
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want, You Get What You Need” – (A Stocking Stuffer Strategy By Mom and Mick Jagger)
Sounds like the majority of the Moms I’ve talked to have completed their Christmas shopping, for the most part.
“I just have to pick up some stocking stuffers and I’m all done!” boasted one of my friends.
Not to be the voice of negativity, but that’s a more daunting chore than it sounds like… I’m pretty sure the tradition of stuffing stockings originated years ago, back in the Mother Country, when the only thing children received from Father Christmas, was a small (human-sized) sock filled with a few walnuts, an orange, a corn husk doll and a schilling or two. Nowadays, our kids get so darn much for Christmas, I’m actually bitter about stuffing their stockings. Not to mention, I can ill-afford this task, as the stocking stuffers usually cost more than the Christmas gifts…
So this year, I’m thinking that, since I probably can’t shirk my parental obligation to fill these obnoxious, oversized socks, (fit for a Clydesdale) the least I can do is make MY life a little easier with a strategic selection of fillers. This year, I’m going with the following theme for my stocking stuffers:
“CRAP Y’ALL BORROW OR STEAL FROM ME AND DAD THROUGHOUT THE YEAR”
PHONE CHARGERS: I know in advance, that I’m going to crawl exhausted into bed many a night in 2015, reach behind my nightstand for the end of the cord to my phone charger and find nothing. I’ll follow this trail of nothingness all the way to the wall socket, where I will be rewarded by more of Nothing. I know you will all deny having seen it and look at me dumbfounded and bewildered when I suggest that you may possess any knowledge of my charger’s whereabouts.
CAR CHARGERS: I can already picture the hectic day when my phone loses juice on my way to a basketball or football game in Bugtussle, Oklahoma, completely at the mercy of my GPS, fumbling through the console for my phone charger. Who am i kidding? It won’t be there.
EAR BUDS: Some days I never even make it to the gym to work out, because I burn the requisite number of calories, not to mention all my allotted time, taking the house apart and searching all the cars for just one pair of ear buds.
BATHROOM ESSENTIALS: These items disappear from my bathroom at an alarming rate. Are you taking hairbrushes and combs to your friends’ houses and leaving them there? If that’s the case, why am I not finding your friends’ hairbrushes and combs lying around here that they left? Due to the genetically ambiguous nature of my hair, I actually only need my comb/brush once a week or so, but there’s never one in my bathroom when I do. Ditto razors, soap and shampoo. Do y’all seriously wait until we fall asleep at night and creep into our bathroom to kidnap our toiletries? Any excuse not to shave my legs is great, but Dad really needs to shave, so….
COFFEE PODS: One of the best things Daddy and I ever did for ourselves was switch to the woefully expensive Keurig system of coffee brewing. One cup at a time! Fast and Fresh! I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s literally changed our lives for the better… Except for the mornings when we stumble bleary-eyed into the kitchen to discover that you and your friends burned through $20 worth of coffee pods, the previous night, during an all night study session. It’s rather pathetic that I have to hide Back-Up Emergency Pods in various places around the house to ensure that we can always get a cup of coffee to start our busy day of servicing your needs. And, I probably shouldn’t say this, but it’d probably be cheaper if we had a “pot habit”, instead of a “pod habit”….
FOOD AND GAS GIFT CARDS: It’ll cost me a ton, but I’ll probably throw in a few gas cards and fast food gift cards. I reckon it’s “pay me now or pay me later”. I understand that it’s ridiculous for me to expect you to eat dinner at home or, God-forbid, on the costly meal plan the university requires us to pay for. I am resigned to the fact that your generation socializes at Panera, Whataburger and Starbucks. So, I guess the exciting challenge will be for me to predict which dining establishments will find favor in 2015 with “Generation I’m-not-eating-that”.
I’m super motivated to head over to Target now. I really like my plan and think this is Pro-active Parenting at it’s very finest! I just have this nagging suspicion that even after Santa Claus gives you a $30 Starbucks card, it’ll barely be February before I’m fishing around in the hole I slit in the bottom of my mattress trying to find a coffee pod for Daddy, so he can go to work to try to earn enough money for your sock to runneth over next year…
As an Army Brat, who grew up all over the world, it was nearly impossible to have set traditions, in my childhood. As such, it’s possible that I might have been a wee bit over-zealous establishing traditions when I had my own family..singing all the same carols, baking the same scones, making the same fudge and watching the same Christmas movie year after year….AND, of course….writing the Blanchard Family Christmas Letter.
So, I guess I have only myself to blame for the reaction I got, when I hinted that I was considering not writing THE LETTER this year. I’ve been writing a blog, which I pointed out, renders the Christmas Letter somewhat redundant. Right then and there, all the Whos down in Whoville dropped their hands, stopped their Who-singing and looked at me in astonished bewilderment, it was as though my heart had shrunk 3 sizes that day!
It became abundantly clear that, the Sacred Christmas Letter, is guaranteed protection under the Freedom of Information Act. Due to its status as a “Family Tradition,” it Must be written! Blog be damned!
MERRY CHRISTMAS FAMILY AND FRIENDS,
Emilie, 28, has had a great year! So good, in fact, that she has scarcely been mentioned in my blog, as the thrust of my writing focuses on embarrassing mishaps. There’s simply not an abundance of blog-fodder surrounding the life of an overworked and overwhelmed fledgling Attorney. No matter! Emilie is not particularly enamored of the blog, anyway. Shortly after I started writing it, and was fishing for “feedback,” (translation: accolades) she informed me, “Mom, I’m sure all your friends, who didn’t grow up hearing your shtick day-in, day-out, think your blog is funny!!” Shortly after making this comment, she was walking through a downtown parking garage, reading the blog on her phone and was almost run over by a car! Thank goodness, I was in Edmond that day and have a solid alibi.
Mollie, 25, is studying Law at Fordham University in Manhatten. We miss her terribly and her absence has left a void in our blog – I mean, our lives. Now, there is a girl that could be depended upon to provide consistent creative writing material!! Whatever adorable little mishaps she is involved in on a daily basis up there, are being kept from us, with the exception of the 911 phone call we got from her beleaguered boyfriend, Jace, when she was LOST IN NEW YORK CITY!!! The fact that I posted a blog about that the next day, isn’t helping to keep me “in the loop” on the goings-on in the Big Apple…They’re both busy this week with their Law School Exams and then, flying home for Christmas!!
Gracie, 19, left for The University of Arkansas in August. All Summer long, as we battled over custody of jewelry, make-up and clothes, it was clear, we were just masking our pain; both of us dreading the day she would leave…On the morning she departed, one of her BFFs came over to help us pack up her car; then they stood in the driveway and hugged and cried for quite some time. Finally, Gracie, looked at us the two of us, and said, in her bravest singsong voice, “Well – I guess this is IT!!” As I closed in for the emotionally dramatic Mother/Daughter Goodbye Scene, she pressed her phone in my hand, wrapped her arms around her girlfriend, and said, “Can you snap one last picture of me and Jensen before I go?” That kind of sums up motherhood for me…anticlimactic.
James, 17, had shoulder surgery the day before Thanksgiving. It was an extremely difficult decision whether or not to have him undergo this procedure. Upon consulting with 3 different surgeons, we finally agreed to go through with it. A few hours after the operation, we were filled with second thoughts and renewed angst, as we saw our typically healthy, happy-go-lucky son debilitated by pain and discomfort. We anxiously drove him home from the hospital, each silently wondering if we had made the right decision or if we had possibly just ruined our young boy forever.
Suddenly, we heard him mumble something from the backseat…
Jimmy- “What’s he saying back there?”
Leslie- “It sounds like he’s saying ‘What-a-burger'”
And, then he said ANOTHER word…and his thumbs began to twitch…
Leslie- “He just said, ‘phone’! He wants his phone! He wants to text!”
And, we smiled at each other in relief, because we knew…Our Boy was going to be okay.
That was a couple of weeks ago and we are delighted to report that, while we don’t know if he will recover enough to play football his Senior year, he is back to texting at his pre-surgery capacity and seemingly has a bright future ahead.
At 14, Tommy is still surprisingly loving, considerate and respectful. As cynical battle-scarred veterans of 4 previous teenagers, we remain on threat level “high-alert status,” ever-vigilant as we watch for the inevitable warning signs of a changing temperament. He has been extremely helpful these last few weeks, picking up James’ slack. We did notice, after a couple of days, that James’ incapacitation didn’t actually add too much to Tom’s workload…underscoring the fact that he has been correct all along in his assertions that, “James doesn’t do anything around here!” Nonetheless, by Day 3 of our Post-Surgical Thanksgiving “Hunker-Down”, Tommy said, “I don’t care WHAT I do today, or WHO I do it with, I’m putting on some real pants with a zipper and leaving this house!”
Speaking of hunkering down, Jimmy and I will celebrate 30 years of marriage if he hangs in through next week! He continues to remind me that “all he does” is work, fix the things we break, and finance/indulge my writing and tennis obsessions….
There’s really not much I can say to dispute that, except sing:
“If I bake scones and blog all night long…It’s a Family Tradition!”
Wishing you and yours the merriest Christmas and a blessed 2015!
Jimmy, Leslie, Emilie, Mollie, Gracie, James and Tommy
Deliver the letter, the sooner – the better…
The Christmas greeting has morphed considerably over time. When I was younger, most of the cards we received were just that – cards. These were of the secular or non-secular variety, designed by a stranger and signed by the sender -relatively boring compared to today’s greetings, but we enjoyed them nonetheless.
Since then, our communication styles have been radically altered by social media. Nowadays, one can have daily (or at least weekly) communication with their Ex-college Roommate, their 5th grade Art Teacher and their Next-door Neighbor’s Cousin. We are “reaching out and touching someone” constantly…
But, we still love receiving our Christmas mail. I don’t know what it is about the allure of the Christmas Greeting, but this is the only time of year I actually walk out to the street, and check my mailbox. January-November, I leave all the bills and the junk mail for Jimmy to retrieve, but the holidays are a different story.
Starting the day after Thanksgiving, I check the mail once or twice a day – racing my kids to get to the mail first.
Approximately 10% of the greetings we receive are generic cards, 80% are Photo Cards and perhaps another 10% are sent by the overly ambitious writers of the much-maligned Christmas Letter!
THE HUMBLE CHRISTMAS CARD:
These are sent to us mostly from the older generation. For whatever reason, these folks don’t care to send us a picture of themselves or a letter updating us on their lives, so they buy a box of cards and sign them. We love hearing from the Card-Signer Generation, and are touched that they thought of us. It’s reassuring to know they are still kickin’ and it’s a reminder to keep them on our list for next year.
THE PHOTO CARD:
This is by far the most popular Christmas greeting. Snapfish and Shutterfly have elevated this genre to an art form. You simply go online and choose a design you like. There are a plethora of available styles, with spaces for you to drag and click your favorite pics of the year. Some of the designs are created for just one large picture (the whole fam), some for a grouping of 2, 3 or 4 smaller pictures (each child individually featured). But, the really challenging designs might have a variety of spaces in different sizes, requiring you to prioritize your very own kids- the decision as to which child’s face goes in the larger ornament and which goes in the smaller, could potentially stir up some holiday drama. One of my friends met this challenge head-on by featuring her dog in the larger space. Who can argue with that?
We adore poring over the picture cards and are heartened to see our friends and their offspring posed in front of such exotic locales, as The Great Wall of China, The Eiffel Tower and The Parthenon. It quite literally fills our hearts with Yuletide Joy, to know that, while we are slugging around in the trenches of our common everyday lives, you and the kiddos are checking items off our Bucket List. Receiving your Photo card is the fulfillment of our every Christmas Wish – its almost as if we had been there with you….
THE DREADED CHRISTMAS LETTER:
Why does the lowly Christmas letter have such a bad rep? I’ve been composing an annual Christmas letter since way back when my kids were cute. By the time we settled down in Oklahoma, we had a Wait-List of people who wanted to receive our letter, should someone happen to die and create a vacancy…
So, it was with a large and generous heart that I randomly decided to include our new neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. _, on my Christmas Mailing List, the VERY FIRST year we met them!! One day, a week or so after my letter went out, I asked Mr. _, if he had read it. To which he responded, with a dismissive wave of his hand, “Oh, I never read those!” I was livid…. Much to the despair of his wife Mrs._, (who, seemingly can’t control her spouse), I made sure my letter never darkened their mailbox again. Surprisingly, Mr. _ has managed to push on successfully through life, but only because he doesn’t know what he is missing.
In Mr. _’s defense though, most people have bastardized the original intent of the Christmas Letter, with their transparent attempts at Self-Promotion:
“And then, in July, we almost missed our Red-eye from Rome, which would’ve prevented us from attending Junior’s Eagle Scout Award Ceremony”
“As this year’s Valedictorian, Sissy was faced with the difficult choice between giving her Class Commencement Address or singing the Star Spangled Banner at The Olympic Opening Ceremony that same weekend”
Some people even brag about their spouses:
“When she isn’t carpooling the kids around, volunteering at our Local Homeless Shelter, teaching Step-Aerobics or facilitating a Ladies Bible Study in our home, Honey continues to pursue her passion for 18th Century Chinese Poetry!”
These Seasonal PR Campaigns are the REAL reason people avoid reading Christmas Letters. If you really want your friends and loved ones, dotted around the country, to know how superior your life is to theirs, don’t insult their intelligence on top of it…
Just get on with it, like this :
“Merry Christmas! Our kids are straight A students, as well as accomplished award -winning athletes. Our marriage continues to be a Beacon of Hope in a Fallen World. We bought a new Porsche with the money we saved on the great interest rate we got, when we built the new house. If you ever find yourself in our neck-of-the-woods, we’d love to give you a tour of the place, but call first, to make sure we aren’t abroad!”
I, on the other hand, compose a letter every year delineating the mishaps, humblings and utter embarrassments of my family’s year. I consider this Tell-All an act of pure and genuine selflessness, as nothing puts the “Merry” in Christmas like an honest and realistic glimpse of someone else’s Failings and Family Dysfunction…
“One Blown Bulb Don’t Spoil The Whole Strand Girl” – (Single-handedly Saving Christmas and Marriage)
I know it’s generally considered taboo, but we went ahead and got the Christmas tree out of the attic BEFORE Thanksgiving this year.
I initiated this task a little prematurely, largely because My hubby happened to be home that morning, and was, seemingly, in a compliant mood. Complimentary Marriage Tip: Always strike while the iron is hot!
Every year, I dread asking him to get the tree and the ornaments out of the attic because of all the surliness, complaining, and overall “put-outedness” he displays.
My man acts as though, I single-handedly, invented the entire concept of Christmas, as an excuse to spend extra money and create extra work for him. The fact that I happen to embrace this holiday with a joyful attitude, does not make it my personal brain-child.
Furthermore, I find this insinuation somewhat perplexing, as I have run across old Blanchard family photographs, depicting the Blanchards enjoying a myriad of Yule Tide activities, long before I came on the scene with my mandatory merry-making ways…
Not to mention, with the exception of some minimal heavy-lifting, MOST of the work ensuring that our children’s every Magical Christmas Memory is met or exceeded each year, falls on me, not him.
And it all starts with the the Christmas Tree…
A few years ago, we decided it was time to invest in one of those Pricey Pre-lit Christmas Trees. We figured we were due for an upgrade, and had come far enough in life that we deserved not to have to hassle with the annual tedium of light stringing. I was fully on board, because it would undoubtedly involve less Husband-stress, which is always a holiday goal. So, yesterday, m hubby hoisted the 2 year old tree out of the attic, connected the three sections, plugged it in and, Ta-da!! about 17 of the 1200 lights shown brightly!!
Now, this not a widely publicized fact, but, apparently, investing hundreds of dollars in a pre-lit Christmas tree and having the lights blow out a year or two later, is the most common cause of divorce in this country. (Im not sure why they erroneously insist on blaming sex and children…)
I actually remember, when we bought the tree, admiring how intricately each and every light was painstakingly woven in and around every branch and evergreen finger. I gave fleeting consideration to the thought, that we would have a big problem if the lights ever blew out. I reassured myself that they must obviously use very high quality light bulbs to ensure the life of the tree and prevent against this disaster…
I’m sure, at the very moment I was thinking this, someone, somewhere, in an Indonesian Christmas Tree Factory must’ve been laughing hysterically.
Initially, I didn’t panic when the tree didn’t light up, because The Hubs can fix almost anything. Recently, my dishwasher broke, and a few short hours after telling me, “It looks like you’re going to need a new dishwasher,” he had it humming along like brand new.
So, quite optimistically, I said, “Fix it!”
He tinkered around for a few minutes, checking the connections, etc and said, “I don’t think this can be fixed...”
Undaunted, I said, “okay…fix it, PRETTY PLEASE!”
“How would you suggest I do that?”
“Jiggle something,” I helpfully suggested.
And this is where we parted ways that day, both physically and metaphorically. “These lights are blown,” he said, stubbornly, and then suggested that it really wasn’t a Big Deal, and left for work.
Clearly, He just doesn’t give a crap about Christmas. He views the world very black and white and prioritizes things he sternly and strictly refers to as, “The Basics Of Life,” such as food and shelter etc…
Essential as those pursuits may be, I am obviously the only one in this relationship that understands the inordinate value of a Beautiful Christmas Tree…
So, I was left with a few options:
1. Buy a new tree (no way!)
2. Pretend Christmas lights don’t matter to all of Mankind (they do!)
3. Buy new lights and drape them over the burnt-out lights, pretending that the dead lights are invisible to the naked eye (they aren’t!)
4. Cut each and every light and wire out of the tree and then re-string with new lights
(I can and I will!)
But, I went a little Edward Scissor-Hands, and 7 hours later, while I may not have personally invented this holiday, I may just have been The First Woman Ever to PRUNE an Artificial Tree -saving both marriage AND Christmas for generations to come!