O Tannenbaum

CHRISTMAS trees are presumably not one of the ``market basket'' of goods used to calculate the consumer price index; if they were, inflation in the United States would resemble the third world's. After a couple of weekends of intense, if not exactly wide-ranging, field research, your editorial page staff has reached a consensus that the traditional yule tree is getting awfully expensive. No doubt for sound economic reasons - the same kind of sound reasons as were behind the stock market plunge. We checked even some of those ad hoc operations on vacant lots (``Psst - wanna tree? Cheap?''). And 30 bucks a pop was the starting rate, for small trees at that. Alternatives were considered: Is this the year to invest in artificial greenery? How about just decorating the ficus tree instead?

The pouring rain Saturday didn't do much to inspire bold forays into Boston's exotic outer 'burbs, either.

But Sunday, full of holiday cheer after a rousing friendly carol sing, we found ourself tootling along through the late-afternoon sunshine to one last nursery remembered from years past. A moment of truth outside the gate: Is this really worth it?

Once inside, though, we took all of about five minutes to spot a pretty tree just the right size (for car, wallet, and living room). This, plus wreath to match, and change back from a $20 bill.

Yes. It's worth it.

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