There was a rumor. Perhaps it was on a website or a social media group page. I heard it was possible to buy a real Christmas tree in Bahrain. Of course, here one does not acquire a tree by chopping it down in the wild or snuggling up for an outing to a Christmas tree farm. Trees arrive by plane from the great white north of Europe. Or so I had heard.
We don’t own an artificial Christmas tree. Artificial trees are perfect. No one browses a showroom of artificial trees looking for one with quirky limbs, sparse patches and a crooked center post. You look for symmetry, the just-right color of green and a tree that will be reliable and ready-from-the-box year after year. And if, like many Christmas celebrants this year, you choose to decorate earlier than normal, the plastic tree is waiting for its re-reveal at your choice in time. It is a faithful witness to the family Christmas, year after year. Nothing about the Christmas tree process is outside your control.
Not only are we at the mercy of natural disasters, pandemics and a climate inhospitable to fir trees, we are also at the mercy of market forces. A natural tree is simply not natural here. And while there may be a market for the product, the supply is not readily evident. In the United States, when the Thanksgiving turkey has been consumed and a neighbor’s tree is already on full display in the bay window, the hunt for a fresh evergreen is on. When we live overseas, the hunt isn’t always simple. In Germany – Germany – the land of Tannenbaum, we had an ‘adventure’ trying to find a Christmas tree. We had heard tradition dictated you buy the tree Christmas Eve. This hearsay was false – as hearsay often is.
Now, living in the Persian Gulf, I read online that real trees are available. And we all know that if you read it on the internet it must be true. In fact, the Facebook photo of the flyer announcing the Christmas tree sale had been shared 570 times, so it must be accurate. I called the number on the Facebook post. Nothing.
So I went old-school. I called a local plant nursery. Lo and behold, they would be receiving a load of trees from the Netherlands the following week. I placed my order for the smallest size available, which was at the top of our ‘real Christmas tree’ budget. The only thing they could tell me on the phone was that it was indeed a Christmas tree. We all know there’s much more to consider when acquiring a tree. When was it cut? What kind of tree? Blue Spruce? Douglas Fir?
After I placed my order, I inundated the patient Filipina plant nursery employee with questions via WhatsApp. [Most business communication is done via text on WhatsApp. While this may seem impersonal, many people are communicating in a second language, not their first language. Texting allows you to translate, keep a record in the conversation thread of agreed upon prices and meeting times and respond when it’s convenient, like when you’re NOT driving. It also allows you to keep in touch without long distance fees associated with communicating across country codes].
I have no idea when my pre-ordered tree was cut. I don’t know how it was stored or if it had been given water. She did tell me via text it was of the abies variety. I wasn’t familiar with that variety, but it would have to suffice. (Aren’t familiar with the Dutch abies tree? Look it up online.)
Two days before the trees were supposed to arrive, I passed by the plant nursery to confirm my order. While the two-year-old wandered throughout the foliage, testing the cactus to see if they were pokey and testing lily petals to see if they were actually attached, I approached the front desk. If this tree failed to materialize, Plan B was IKEA’s standard fake tree, a staple in global households. My nine-year-old bawled when I told her our real tree was going to be shorter than me. “It’s going to be the worst Christmas ever!” she wailed with her normal flair for the dramatic. I wasted no thoughts on how she would respond to a Plan B tree that was not only shorter than me, but also made of plastic. Yes, in a pinch, IKEA would do.
“Hello, I called last week and ordered a tree. I want to confirm you have my order and that they are still arriving Thursday.” The place was crammed with vegetation in all shapes and sizes. It was a veritable botanical garden. Store employees were loading pots, trees and flowers into vehicles. Patrons were pointing and adding items to their orders. Men hauled long flat boxes the size of small coffins to the back where items that were very much alive were sorted and tagged. It was obvious a large shipment had just arrived. The place was hopping.
“Ma’am, yes, we have your order. They arrived last night.” Super!
“Great! I ordered a 150cm tree.”
“Sorry ma’am. We only have two-meter trees. Come see.”
As we weaved our way to the back, I explained. “I picked the 150cm tree because that is the price I want to pay for the tree. The 2m tree is too much for me.” Several trees leaned against shelves loaded with clay pots. Wrapped in stretchy mesh, just off the plane, these few evergreens were most certainly special-ordered for someone else. I began to plan an IKEA trip for a tree – and ice cream, a scented candle, shawarma, coffee, apple turnovers, an office chair, etc, etc, etc.
“I will give you 50% off.” Or maybe they were destined for no one?
“Yes! I’ll take it.”
It was taller and cheaper than we had planned. It smells better than plastic. The needles look sliver blue when viewed from below, and deep green from the top. They are painfully sharp. The sap is sticky. The tree is round with many long, protruding branches. Perhaps in northern Europe this is the preferred style of tree, since branches are meant to support flaming candles. This tree, styled in northern Europe for an American household in the Middle East was just what we needed. It was perfect.