Rich Lowry

If getting a real Christmas tree seems too much trouble, consider the case of Frederick Dominguez and his three kids. After church on Sunday, they headed into the Northern California mountains to find a tree, and lost their bearings. They spent three days huddling in a culvert from snowstorms until rescuers found them and flew them out with helicopters.

And you thought driving to the local Christmas-tree lot and shoving the thing onto the back of your car was a pain?

There is a great culture struggle afoot in the land. It's the quiet battle between patrons of real and artificial Christmas trees. It's quiet because no one who trudges down to the basement every year to unpack the fake tree is going to want to brag about it, even if it's a state-of-the-art model with built-in lights, fully hinged branches and -- as the artificial-tree seller Treetopia boasts of its models -- "an extra-long extension cord with on/off foot pedal."

Feeling all warm and fuzzy yet? A silent majority has nonetheless been moving to artificial trees. Fakes have risen from about 50 percent of all trees to as much as 70 percent now. This brazen raid on market share has instigated a fierce counterattack by the National Christmas Tree Association. The association is not inhibited by the holiday season from viciously negative attacks on fake trees as un-American monstrosities that expose you and yours to ... DANGEROUS CHEMICALS! MANUFACTURED IN CHINA!

Fake trees are indeed overwhelmingly made in China (85 percent). But the chemical in question is polyvinyl chloride, which doesn't represent a threat to hearth and kin. The natural-tree people have their own safety issues. To listen to fire officials warn about the hazards of an inadequately watered natural tree makes bringing a Douglas fir into the home sound almost as foolhardy as singing carols around a Molotov cocktail.

Here's the U.S. Fire Administration's description of fire touching a dry tree: "Within three seconds of ignition, the dry Scotch pine is completely ablaze. At five seconds, the fire extends up the tree and black smoke with searing gases streaks across the ceiling. Fresh air near the floor feeds the fire. The sofa, coffee table and the carpet ignite prior to any flame contact. Within 40 seconds, 'flashover' occurs."

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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