Mr. President, Tax These Trees!

When I was very young, before we moved to Manhattan from the Newark suburbs, my mother divided people into two categories: those who put up real trees on Christmas, and those who went artificial. Without explaining exactly why, she made it clear that artificial tree-buyers were beneath contempt. All of her friends put up natural trees, if they weren’t too bohemian or too Jewish to disdain the holiday altogether. Either coincidentally, or because I followed her cues, so did all of mine.

It wasn’t until I was 18 and away at college that I began to understand the logic behind my mother’s aversion. Watching Goodfellas, which had hit theaters the previous week, I saw Ray Liotta burst onto the screen, screaming, “KAREN! I GOT THE MOST EXPENSIVE TREE THEY HAD!” The tree he was carrying was white, obviously to symbolize the source of the family income. I got the message: people who chose artificial trees were all gangsters. They kept mistresses in Ozone Park crash pads decorated by Maurice Valencia, and shot nice black guitarists in the back of the head. My mother had not raised me to be a snob, but this crowd was clearly Not Quite Our Kind, Dear.

Since then, this view has softened somewhat, though more from time than direct exposure. In all my life, I’ve spent exactly one Christmas at a home with an artificial tree. It belonged to — hopefully I’m getting this right — my buddy’s girlfriend’s grandmother. The good woman greeted us on Christmas morning, having fixed enough food for two dozen people. Before anyone had eaten so much a toe of his gingerbread man, she vanished on some mysterious family business. A couple of hours later, the girlfriend’s sister showed up and announced that her ex-husband had hanged himself. The four of us — me, buddy, girlfriend, sister — spent the next three days sitting on the living room floor, in our underwear, watching Blair Witch Project in a continuous loop as we ate turkey and trifle and three-bean salad with our hands. It must have been something in the artificial pine scent.

This hermeneutic of suspicion roared back to life yesterday, when President Obama caved in to public outcry and abandoned plans to tax fresh-cut natural Christmas trees at $0.15 per. I like a balanced budget as well as the next person, but it seems a little draconian to tax an item with its obsolescence built in so firmly. Even a beloved and pampered Douglas fir or blue spruce will last till St. Patrick‘s Day, at the latest. If the government wants to stimulate the Christmas-tree trade, let it claim its tunnage and poundage from artificial trees, any of which can last, by the look of the things, as long as a casket.

A tax on artificial trees would be fair in the conservative sense, since it would also be flat. The sticker prices for man-made trees vary astoundingly. At the happy medium, you’ve got your Vickerman Flocked Alaska 78-incher with clear G50 lights selling for $350 online. If you really want the Escalade of ersatz evergreens, you’ll go for the seven-and-a-half-foot Blackfoot at ChristmasTreesGalore. According to the catalogue, it’s both “pre-lit” and “full,” like the ideal Christmas dinner guest. If you need to ask how much that baby’ll run you, you might want to think about lowering your sights a little — say, in the direction of the Classic Pine Pre-Lit Pencil. Starting at $199, it’s a steal, especially since, being both green and unmistakably phallic, it could return to duty at Beltane.

A tax of $0.15 on every tree, regardless of size, shape or sweep would be a tip of the stocking cap to our nation’s top earners, and might even incentivize upgrading. Come on — a once-in-a-lifetime tax on a once-in-a-lifetime tree, and you’re going to settle for that thing? That four-foot Piedmont Fir? That Cheri Oteri of factory-built Abies pinsapo? Who in hell are you, anyway, Amish? Go on, Charlie Brown, try catching snowflakes on your tongue — it’s fun! It’s for the kids, isn’t it?

Yes, the tax might get passed on to the consumer, but with that kind of value, how would he notice? He’s not paying extra for lights, since they’re built into the very branches. Intuition tells me members of the artificial-tree demographic are not the types to beggar themselves at UNICEF gift shops, buying wooden Saint Niklauses and Zwarte Piets hand-painted by children in the slums of Jakarta. A black market? Fugghedaboutit. The kind of workmanship that goes into making a Carver Frasier pre-lit LED can’t be duplicated by just anyone with a shed, a few undocumented immigrants, and a copy of Atlas Shrugged. To put it another way, those beauties don’t grow on trees.

  • BabyRaptor

    Just a note…Obama didn’t start this tax. The National Christmas Tree Association did, under Bush. My understanding was that the tax was going to be used to fund research for something.

  • maxlindenman

    Thank you for not being a spambot.

  • Tim

    Were finally seeing some green shoots of recovery. I’m not sure how this will effect the Clause-curve though.

  • Elizabeth Scalia

    Actually the National Christmas Tree Association SUGGESTED this tax under Bush, but it didn’t fly. I know some people want to blame Bush for everything, but it was the Obama administration that okayed this, not Bush’s.

  • BabyRaptor

    I apologize for the sloppy wording, Ms. Scalia. I wasn’t trying to blame Bush for it, I was just trying to make sure that the whole story was out. Most people I’ve read/spoken to concerning the topic didn’t actually know.

  • Ryan Haber

    My objection to the “fee” is twofold. The first, and less serious, is a matter of mere policy. Our government is too big and must not be allowed to grow any bigger, especially when it has, or has the promise of, so decidedly an anti-Christian and misanthropic bent. More specifically to our immediate situation, I believe that we are taxed quite amply and that the solution to our fiscal problems should lie entirely and almost exclusively with reconsidering the role of government and the size of its financial outlays. In short, I oppose any increase in what the government of the United States extracts from its populace – either in relative or absolute terms. It has plenty.

    Secondly, to go a bit more specifically into the anti-Christian bent of the particular fee, I cannot think that this or any other administration would consider a tax on decorations used for Eid, Ramadan, or Hannukah.

    The $0.15 size of the excise is intended to trivialize it. As a matter of law, policy, and precedent, it is not at all trivial, though.

  • Kaylan

    I think Ryan has a point about tax on a Christian holiday symbol. Muslims would never put up with a tax on their religious decorations (or anything related to their religion) so I think it should be illegal to tax something that represents someone’s religion. Even if most Americans are not practicing religious persons, the Christmas tree will always be a Christian symbol even if there is only one practicing Christian left on earth to remind them of that. :)

  • Manny

    “31.3 million real Christmas trees were purchased in 2007.”

    At 15 cents per tree that would amount to $4.7 million dollars. That is less than peanuts given a several trillion dollar annual budget. If this research was so important, just find the $4.7M out of the general budget. By the time we created the tax and figured out the aedministrative structure to collect and account for it, half the money just went in collecting the tax rather than the research. There has to be some brain dead people working in this government.