Every year in Pioneer Courthouse Square, a beautiful fir tree (chosen from the millions in Oregon's lush forests) has all of its branches cut off, then bolted back on with metal braces. What's going on? Do the trees fail to meet Official Portland Symmetry Standards?

—Wesley M.

If you're that squeamish about what happens to just one tree once a year, Wesley, remind me never to tell you how we make newsprint.

Part of the reason for this Frankentree process is that it's tough to ship a tree with all its branches intact. But you're correct in surmising that the main problem is that natural trees don't live up to society's shallow standards for arboreal beauty.

We've gotten used to 5- or 6-foot trees from the Christmas tree farm. Those trees are just babies, and were planted well-spaced from each other, so they could spread out into the verdant, conical shape we've come to associate with gift-giving, good cheer and being drunk with your mom before noon.

Unfortunately, just like you, me and Gary Coleman, trees that started life all cute and adorable can start to look pretty gnarly and busted when they get older.

The trees in those lush forests you're so geeked on are wedged in tight, and they're all competing for sunlight at the top of the canopy. In the shade below, there's not much use for lower branches, and a natural 75-foot fir is quite skinny and top-heavy. Society loves that look in porn stars, but we can't hang with it in Christmas trees.

So, in a sort of Yuletide reverse boob job, we plump up the bottom half of the tree by bolting on extra branches from other trees. It's sort of like if your tweaker uncle went around the trailer park stealing the few remaining teeth from each of his neighbors so he could have a complete smile at Christmas dinner. Happy holidays!

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