09 Dec2005

“We have to buy an ARTIFICIAL Christmas Tree!?!” aorn1The simultaneous shock/groan/whine from my 10 year old daughter, wife and myself was just too painful… My entire adult life I have had live Christmas trees – whether as a new graduate in a tiny studio apartment in New York, a budding consultant in the wilds of Jakarta or Singapore (they have wilds there?) and head of a small nuclear family back in Manila. For the past 9 years we have been buying our tropical pine trees (actually 3 or 4 trees bound together to make a seriously bushy and full 9 foot tree) from Mang Serafin who sets up shop early each December in the heart of the Makati subdivisions. Every year we haggled with the pleasant thin old man that apparently grew his own trees on some farm in Batangas. He would deliver the trees in his jeepney and set them up in your living room to ensure that they fit and looked just right. They had heft, they had dark green needles, they had the right height…but no fragrance. This year he seemed to be running late and I told my wife he would be there by Thursday, the 8th…

He wasn’t. And the guards nearby conveyed the sad aorn2news that they think he passed away. Oh my gosh! How sad. I really did feel that I knew him a bit even though we only interacted for 20 minutes a year. I felt bad for his family. Then panic set in… Good grief, no bloody Christmas tree?! What was wrong with his kids?! Had they all had a collective nervous breakdown and ignored this man’s plantation of trees that he had been nursing for 15 years? Did they not know that dozens of Makati homes would be thrown for a serious loop when they found out they were without their Batangas pine? Such wonderful stately homes, modern apartments, humble abodes with no live trees from Mang Serafin??? Marketman had to make quick decisions, to react and overcome this hurdle and prevent holiday disaster! My wife and I scoured the malls and department stores and spotted just one sorry tree at Landmark that was 9 feet tall and decorated in outrageous Filipino poinsettia motif…”we’ll take it, I said, half-heartedly.” I figured I better act quick before the hoards of Escada and Ferragamo clad moms came to snatch it away from Marketman. “Remove all the crap on it and put it in a box ,” I said.

Now, I personally have nothing against people who have artificial trees – they are reliable, practical and economical when amortized over time. aorn3But there are some things that I really do like and a live Christmas tree is one of them. And I don’t like them small…they have to be at least 9 feet. The one we got is a 9 foot “Sequioa Pine” which is a really strange name since a Sequoia, while a conifer, is not a pine but rather a cypress…but that’s splitting hairs during panic time. Back home last night it was assembled in a flash and my brilliant elves made sure it was standing ram-rod straight and all 2000 plain white Christmas lights were put on. There is a method to this and it is taken seriously around these parts… the lights must also be in the inner part of the tree, not just the edges. I learned several things from my brother-in-law and one that is permanently hard-wired into my brain is the need to have an “inner glow” to the tree… not sure we achieved this with the artificial one but it isn’t half bad really.

Next, come the ornaments. We decided on red and clear crystal and glass and some silver and mirrored ornaments. aorn4One of my pet peeves is huge fake poinsettias that have sprung up on all these trees in the malls…obviously an easy way to decorate but it lacks character not to mention it’s a bit out of place…but I’m an old fogey. We have invested heavily in building our stock of ornaments. Not so much cost but volume. Every year we try to add a few ornaments and the time my family spends together hanging the ornaments is one of my most treasured memories every year. With over 400 ornaments on this year’s tree, we needed help from everyone in the house. At this point, we are still tweaking it so there is no overall picture…that to follow soon. There is something about putting up a favorite ball or Santa and remembering where we got it, what presents we associated with it, its twin that broke the previous year, etc. With Christmas carols from the ipod and the initial panic over, things are looking pretty good again…



  1. ajb says:

    Do you happen to remember what kind of trees he was selling? I’m curious as to what kind Christmas-type tree would grow in a tropical climate.

    Dec 9, 2005 | 10:57 am


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  3. nadine says:

    Instead of lamenting about not having a live tree this year…how about you find out what really happened to Mang Serafin?

    Dec 9, 2005 | 11:00 am

  4. Marketman says:

    Nadine, I would love too but have no contact number. He would set up by the roadside and was not at a commercial location… it is regrettable how little we know about people who do great or mundane things for us…

    Dec 9, 2005 | 12:20 pm

  5. lori says:

    MM, Cost-U-Less in Libis sells real pine trees/garlands for christmas but u have to order in advance. I just don’t know if they are accepting orders till now. We ordered ours a month ago and got it a week after.

    Dec 9, 2005 | 1:28 pm

  6. Kai says:

    I was wondering, how come Mang Serafin’s trees (may her rest in peace, if it’s true he had passed away) do not have fragrance?

    Dec 9, 2005 | 3:55 pm

  7. Noelle says:

    I can confirm that Cost-U-Less and its sister company Price Smart have been selling real pine trees since early November. I’m not sure if they still have stock, though.

    My family has always used a fake tree, simply because we can store it from January to November, then pull it out of the box and dress it. (BTW we are cheapskates. ;) )

    Dec 9, 2005 | 6:22 pm

  8. Lani says:

    Nice artificial X-mas tree, MM.

    Dec 9, 2005 | 6:46 pm

  9. wysgal says:

    Price Smart and Cost-U-Less are actually rival companies — and my informants tell me the trees in Price Smart are much better. =)

    Dec 9, 2005 | 7:07 pm

  10. Milet says:

    Next year, try driving up to Barras, past Antipolo. They grow pine trees there and they smell like pine too.

    Dec 9, 2005 | 8:39 pm

  11. Luwee says:

    MM, I think I remember those pine trees being sold by the corner or Pasay Road and EDSA, are those the ones? For several years, I enjoyed looking at those pine trees for sale as they herald Christmas cheers. I am sure gonna miss that. I never had a chance to meet Mang Serapin though, as we always had our fake Christmas tree for reasons of practicality and convenience. Let’s include the old man in our prayers that anywhere he might be now, may it be a better place. Anyway, yes there are pine trees being sold at Price Smart and I saw there were still some just the other day.

    Dec 9, 2005 | 11:13 pm

  12. Noelle says:

    Really, wysgal? Cost-U-Less and Price Smart seem to have the same merchandise in some instances (just with different tags; Cost-U-Less has the branded one, while Price Smart has the generic).

    Dec 9, 2005 | 11:19 pm

  13. louie says:

    wysgal, your informats are right. we boughtfresh pine trees one each from price smart and cost u less and the former was fresher and thicker. it was our first time to get a real pine tree and will definitely try to make it a tradition because the smell makes our home more “christmasy”

    Dec 9, 2005 | 11:33 pm

  14. ShoppaHolique says:

    the pine trees in cost-u-less are too thin!!! They remind me of malnourished children!

    Dec 10, 2005 | 2:36 am

  15. MarriedChristmas says:

    Up until reading this post, I didn’t realise real pine trees could be purchased in Manila. Growing up, real pine trees meant trips to Baguio or watching American Christmas on tv. I think I’ll stick to the plastic kind.

    Thanks for this bit of info.

    Dec 10, 2005 | 6:47 am

  16. ichabod1973 says:

    A real pine christmas tree sure sounds wonderful! I’ll be sure to look for one next year. We have an artificial tree like the one you bought and I put up red and gold ornaments on it. I’m too lazy to meticulously twine the lights within the branches so I just sort of lace them in the inner part of the tree to achieve the “glow effect”. For fear of my tree ending up like the burning bush, I make sure I get the good quality lights and check on them every year before I put them up.

    Dec 10, 2005 | 8:20 am

  17. Alicia says:

    I do love fresh christmas trees having grown up with them but now living in manila I seem to dry out all my fresh trees despite providing them with enough water. I also heard of a fresh tree that dried out and it caught fire from an over heated strand of christmas lights, but this has happened to fake trees as well i suppose. Any suggestion how to keep this from happening in our climate? (the drying out part I mean, not catching on fire!) I bought a fake tree last year from this place in Las Pinas that has fiber optic lights and is supposed to help prevent possible fires. Its a nice alternative if you must buy fake.
    Its so great to hear that you make the tree trimming festive and personal. Christmas carols on soft blast..a cup of autumn spiced tea.. It would not be Christmas to me if I had someone else decorate my tree.. but thats just me! happy holidays!

    Dec 10, 2005 | 10:37 am

  18. Marketman says:

    Hi everyone… I am tapping away from a tiny internet cafe on Alona Beach in Bohol… amazed that I can even look up my website. The pine trees that grow tropically are the ones with a thicker needle in addition to the cypress trees that have very fine needles. I am not sure why they don’t have fragrance but at leasst they are fresh. I know Pricesmart and the like bring in real trees from Washington State but they are here too early and thus dry out, they are too short, and they are the poorest quality trees that you can barely hang ornaments on… Give me a nice 9 foot blue spruce or something like that and I would be ecstatic… You can get some nice fresh trees in HK as well but carting it back as luggage would be a bit much, no? Stay tuned for more Christmas stuff, will be back posting in a day or two…

    Dec 10, 2005 | 1:59 pm

  19. rampau says:

    Until this blog, I dint even know anybody can have a real pine tree in Manila. I grew up with this artificial tree imported from the US. I’ve seldom seen anything quite like it since it’s made of a silver foil material. No fake pine needles on this one, it was all foil! We used this tree for many many years until it just stunk one year so my Mom said, enough, let’s retire it. She then proceeded to get a tall plastic tree. In the States we always had real trees until 2 years ago when the clean up after all the needles fall off became horrendous. I dont miss the real tree anymore.

    Dec 10, 2005 | 2:35 pm

  20. Hchie says:

    I read somewhere that you plop-in a live pine tree in a bucket big enough to hold it’s base, add some rocks to hold it down and then add water and just replenish as needed. Cover the bucket with your tree skirt to hide it.As for the scent of pine, naah..I’ve given up on that. I just make gingerbread men and hang it on the tree and garlands or I simmer some cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel in a small pan and let the aroma whiff through the house.

    Dec 10, 2005 | 5:41 pm

  21. sister says:

    Hello, from NYC, where you can still get a real live tree delivered to one’s living room. Sorry about your having to resort to an artificial one this year. I will have to find a way of sending you a live tree next year.
    Marketman, I was thinking of you this morning at 7am when I went to Union Square to get our Christmas tree from an upstate tree farmer. 9 1/2 ft. high Fraser perfectly shaped and fragrant.Your brother-in-law was amused by your post and glad you learned something from him, if only just where to psition the lights… 25 yards of roping, 3 wreaths and real mistletoe and a stand for all time and I’m in good shape for the holidays. I do love Christmas and your niece said it wouldn’t be the same without a tree.
    You should post one of your “Christmas in Vermont” snow pictures…

    Dec 11, 2005 | 12:39 am

  22. schatzli says:

    I once bought a potted tree after the holidays we planted it ;-)

    Dec 11, 2005 | 3:18 am

  23. Michael says:

    I’ll be getting my tree as soon as I find my metal tree stand. I suspect one of my friends used it as an improvised hibachi last year. My aunt used to send us fresh a fresh pine tree from her backyard in Baguio every year. Unfortunately our lowland climate dries it up really quickly and turns it into a fire hazard especially since my mom got those clip on candle holders from a Christmas market in Germany and insist that we use real candles. We only get to light them during noche buena and we always have the fire extinguisher prominently positioned near the tree. Good thing it’s red and goes with the Christmas color scheme.

    Dec 11, 2005 | 8:20 am

  24. fried-neurons says:

    I just got me a living tree, i.e. a real tree that hasn’t been cut. It’s small, about 2 feet tall, and in a pot. I have space for an adult-sized tree, but my dog will probably make a royal mess, so I got the petite version. Instead of 2,000 lights it probably only needs 2 dozen. LOL.

    Dec 11, 2005 | 8:46 pm

  25. mae gabriel says:

    I know what you mean, we always buy our tree on 1st Dec and it’s always a real tree (norwegian) and 7 ft high. We can never get ourselves to get anything below the 7 ft range somehow… I love the smell and the characteristic it has. Yes it’s a pain to keep hoovering underneath on or around the middle of the month but it’s worth it!

    Dec 12, 2005 | 7:39 am

  26. Mila says:

    I still remember trying to get the needles out of the carpet the last Xmas we had a real tree. Not to be a scrooge, but the tree is the biggest hassle for me during the season. I’d rather decorate with ornaments and avoid having this space wasting hulk in the corner (bah humbugs all over). I’ll be making the house smell like xmas with orange and clove pomanders, mulled wine, vanilla, and lots of cookies baking away. And presents, lots of presents!

    Dec 12, 2005 | 11:06 am

  27. Chris says:

    We used to get pine trees from Manila Seedling Bank but that was about ten years ago. I remember they were oddly shaped, not at all conical like what a proper christmas tree should be. We called it our Christmas Bush! haha!

    Dec 12, 2005 | 3:36 pm


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