There are #CoupleGoals, and then there are the Tree Twins.
A pair of married lovebirds who prefer to keep their real names under wraps have spent the last five years making Christmas merry and bright for their fellow San Franciscans by decking themselves out in matching tree costumes festooned with sparkling lights and worn over candy-cane-striped underpinnings. This year, they added clear plastic face masks and hand sanitizer to the mix.
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“We had a lot of conversations about whether we should even do this this year with obviously COVID [being a concern], and obviously it's been a tough political year and we're more divided than ever,” “Tree 1” tells Yahoo Life. “To be honest, it felt like we had no choice ... It makes you feel so good to be out and it restores your faith that you can talk to people and you don't have to just fight with them online.
“It felt like this year, if we let it go, it would just seem so grim,” he added.
And so, mindful of city and state restrictions — which have been recently tightened as COVID cases surge — the two men have kept up their tradition of bringing holiday cheer by popping up around town and posing for socially distanced or masked photos. Whereas an average year might see locals running over for a selfie or even handing over their babies, the pandemic has made the streets quieter, with many businesses closed and fewer people out. Still, the couple say they’re heartened by the responses they get just by waving in their twinkling tree costumes from an overpass or street corner.
“We just get people honking and we wave and everybody has a good time,” Tree 1 says. “And that's all it's really about.”
Though they’ve been a couple for 27 years, their Tree Twin journey didn’t begin until 2015, when they attended a locally televised “Dance Party.” In keeping with the warehouse party’s holiday theme, one went as a tree, and the other a dancing pile of presents. Despite not getting any screen time, their joint love for “silly, absurd things” inspired them to take the festive get-ups out on the town.
Over time, their handmade costumes have become more elaborate and exuberant. After three years of stepping out as “regular dark green trees,” last year saw a pink makeover. A breakthrough with their lights paved the way for 2020’s glowing seafoam green look, which is built out of hula hoops — a welcome, and portable, innovation they discovered after a couple of years wandering around in heavy, painful tomato cages.
The “twins” make the costumes themselves, using a hula hoop to hold the shape at the bottom, adding a base dress and gluing on dozens of “branches” that they’ve cut out of felt. It takes about two weeks for Tree 1 to hand-string and attach the lights, which he says provides another good excuse for social distancing, in a pandemic or not.
“We are very careful about how close we get to anyone because people have broken strings of lights before,” he says. “And when that happens, you have to pull it all out and start all over again.”
But it’s not just about looking good. Getting dolled up as what they call “drag Christmas trees” is really about spreading cheer — and this year, “everybody needs cheering up,” they say.
“Where we work best is when we surprise and delight people,” Tree 2 says. “So we just want to kind of like show up, have it be totally unexpected, and just hear the reactions, whether that's a young child who gets very excited to see us, or it's just an adult that you just surprised because they were looking down at their phone and they didn't see you coming until you said ‘Merry Christmas.’
“And most people just say we make their day. And I think that that's very heartwarming.”
Having made their first appearance on Nov. 29 this year, the Tree Twins plan to be out and about most. nights until Christmas Eve — “that's when Santa picks us up at the Golden Gate Bridge and we go back to the North Pole,” they joke. Until then, they tend to frequent neighborhoods — including Bernal Heights and the Castro — populated with small indie shops.
“We want to hit those little businesses where there's somebody working inside all alone, who just needs to be cheered up, or where there's a family coming back from dinner and they are walking and we surprised them,” Tree 1 says. “And those are the best interactions because those are people who live here. And when we plan our day, we're thinking about them.”
Keeping their identities secret is crucial — and not simply for the sake of their own privacy, though one admits his nights moonlighting as a Tree Twin is a total “180” from his daytime job.
“It’s not about us and who we really are,” Tree 2 says, “it's more about what the trees represent.”
“You put on the costume and all that façade drops,” he explains. “All of a sudden there's an instant warmth. There's an instant opening up. There is an instant brightness in people's eyes. And that from this side of the sunglasses is an amazing view, because you see people just totally transform within seconds and then you're interacting, you're talking.
“And I don't know that that would have just happened if two plainclothes people were just walking down the street just saying ‘Merry Christmas.’ We'd probably look crazy if we just walked down the street and just looked at a bunch of strangers and just said, ‘Merry Christmas, everybody.’ But in costume ... “
“People love it,” Tree 1 interjects.
—Video produced by Jenny Miller
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