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Since the dawn of time, or at least as long as I can remember, my family has always trimmed the tree and hung our stockings with care the first weekend after Thanksgiving. This tradition always centered on a fake tree, which is convenient and all, but somehow my polyvinyl chloride symbol of Christmas majesty just doesn't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling this year. I am DETERMINED to give my daughter her first old fashioned Christmas — complete with a real, honest-to-goodness live tree.

This is all well and good, but I'm a cut-Christmas-tree-novice, to say the least. I've heard all the old wives' tales about using aspirin, Mountain Dew and voo-doo to keep the tree alive, but I'm not quite convinced the hype is true. I'll do us both a favor and give some cheap, practical ways to keep your real tree looking picture perfect all the way through the holiday season.

1. Cut the bottom 1/2 to 1 inch of your tree to expose the fresh wood. If you're not handy — or your husband is busy untangling the National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation-sized ball of lights — ask the tree farm or home improvement store (which sell trees for a fraction of the price) to cut the trunk's bottom for you. The fresh, exposed wood not only absorbs water but you've also just eliminated a layer of sap that naturally forms when the tree is originally cut. The crusty sap layer protects the tree from damage, but also prevents it from efficiently absorbing water.

2. Display your tree in an appropriate-sized tree stand and give it water immediately. If you get home and the tree stand is too small, don't freak. Call around and ask your fellow Christmas tree purists if they have an extra stand lying around. If not, check your local thrift stores. While you're there, pick up a few decorations for the tree on the cheap. Fill the tree stand at least half-way and set up your tree right away. The size of the tree stand is crucial. If it's too small it won't support the tree's weight or provide adequate water. Too big and you have a wobbly tree, which is obviously bad.

3. Set up your tree in a cool spot.  The best place: by a window. The cool air keeps your tree alive, while Mother Nature's natural warmth and glow keeps it green and beautiful. Get the pictures of trimming the tree next to your roaring fire out of your head. Not only is this a safety hazard, the warmth will dry out your tree and cause the dreaded needle mess to multiply.

4. Water your tree like a maniac. Check it 50 times a day, and every time the tree stand's reservoir starts to run dry, add more water. I can't stress this enough. Also, don't let your tree stand turn into your dog's second water bowl. Keep Fido away from the Christmas tree to prevent denying it this much-needed resource. Oh yeah, I forgot. WATER YOUR TREE!

5. Now it's time to tackle a controversial topic, additives. I'll save you the time of scouring the Internet for weird concoctions and cheap products — including corn syrup, aspirin or 7-up — that are supposed to give you a mutant tree that will live until Easter Sunday. These products are superfluous. All the sweet smell of Mountain Dew or Sprite will do is entice your pets to the water. Skip them, and keep your tree on a strict water diet.

6. Invest in LED Christmas lights. Here are some statistics for all of you non-believers who want to resurrect the lights your father's father used to trim his tree. LED Christmas lights use 33% less power than traditional strands, while providing you with around 4,000 hours of life. The LED lights run cooler, which keeps your tree from drying out. They’ve also become a lot cheaper over the years. The initial investment is worth the energy and beauty of these bright lights.

7. Recycle. Once the last Christmas cookie is gobbled down and it's time to take down your real tree, don't simply toss it on the curb for an unceremonious garbage pick-up. Contact your local waste management or recycling center to inquire if your city picks up trees to be turned into mulch.

This has been a guest post by Jaimie from Chippewa Falls, WI
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