For me and Clark Griswold, the kick-off to Christmas is puttin’ up the pine. Big, small, fake fir or real – doesn’t matter. This quiet custom gives us permission to proceed with the magical month of December.  And no one is left out.  Rich or poor.  Young and old. Those who pledge allegiance to the real thing or people who prefer plastic. No snootiness allowed in this season of sales, Santas and sleigh bells. In this place we are all created equal.

But before you haul out the holly or carry up the Christmas cartons, some crucial questions will need to be considered. Authentic or artificial? Parking lot or tree farm? One’s loyalty to his or her preference can be pretty fierce. And for some reason, compromise doesn’t come easy. Take it from me, there’s usually an argument lurking just around the corner.

For several spouses and significant others surviving the season hasn’t come easy. Most years my mom and dad played out a real-life family feud. The question wasn’t real or fake, except for one year during the 60s when silver aluminum trees with the revolving colored lights were the in thing. Mom usually wanted a Christmas Vacation-style tree, and Dad was left to figure out how to make it fit into the tiny red and green metal stand. The stand didn’t have a chance and a gray galvanized bucket always figured into the solution. And there was swearing. Always swearing.

Tree haggling. It’s a genetic condition. My mom passed it to me, and I will pass it on to my daughter. With us (me and my husband) the wrangling involved size and price. He wanted a Charlie Brown tree, and I wanted anything else. And there was crying. Always crying.

It’s likely that husbands and wives have been arguing about Christmas trees since the time Martin Luther toted a Tannenbaum over the river and through the woods. I’m sure Mrs. Luther thought he was nuts.

The conifer controversy has continued. Despite Teddy Roosevelt’s attempt to ban Christmas trees in the early 1900s, last year Americans spent about a billion dollars on real trees. That amounts to 33 million trees making their way into living rooms across the nation.

Forget the hassle of jerry-rigging a Scotch pine to the car roof, say artificial advocates. They carry theirs home in boxes. And their numbers are nothing to sneeze at. A recent Nielsen survey indicated that more than 80 percent of American households put up a phony fir. Reasons are listed as the cost of buying a new tree every year (and maybe a vacuum), the convenience of pulling down a fully-dressed tree from the attic and the environmental impact.

I think it’s fair to say that whether you opt for counterfeit or traditional, either would be a good choice. There is no right or wrong. No good or bad. Only a remarkable transformation just waiting to happen.

As for me, I still miss the fragrant fir from my childhood. A strapping big tree standing in a bucket. Colored bulbs the size of a man’s thumb, not only lighting up the entire house, but producing enough heat to roast marshmallows. And Andy Williams singing something about chestnuts. Yes, the transformation is complete. A simple tree has become the spectacular symbol of a sacred season.