The Little Christmas Tree in My Heart


Lion's Club Alaskan King Crab Fisherman on Sunny Day

Lion’s Club Alaskan King Crab Fisherman on Sunny Day

Twas the night before Christmas and pouring with rain.

We gathered the family in our car and headed out to the Christmas Tree dealership so we could pick out a tree we all agreed on, because that’s the family deal: everybody has to like the tree. If you don’t like it, the way you express that is to say, “I absolutely hate it.” It’s a great system and lots of fun for the family. Of course, when it was time to go everybody wanted to come right away and got into the car with no fuss at all.

When we pulled onto the lot, the men in the yellow Alaskan King Crab raincoats waved and greeted us as they raced back to the warm shelter of the prefab office. Melanie and I walked around the parking lot with our backs to the lashing rain and looked for that special tree among the few remaining trees there that were still available on Christmas Eve. But somehow we couldn’t find the tree that had the right features for the veto-holding children in the car.

We found trees with gaping, empty areas that no amount of clever orientation would disguise. We found trees with odd-angled projectile tops that would crunch their angels into the ceiling. There were trees with the first rung of branches so high off the ground you’d have to spend an extra thousand dollars on presents just to keep from looking cheap. There were little stubby trees and anemic spindly trees and great big department store trees that made you wonder who could afford to live in a house like that. There were trees with trunks chopped at odd angles that would list their way through the Christmas season like they were in America’s Cup. There were trees bound like Japanese geishas that attracted Dad’s attention.

Eventually we found a tree that “nobody absolutely hated.”

The Alaskan fishermen chopped and hacked at the trunk like butchers. We paid at the pre-fab hut like we always do while the Lion’s Club accountant practiced making change for the first time in his life, and then, simply because it was in front of us, we purchased a $75 wreath. This is another family tradition. And even though I’d placed $10 in the sad little tip jar with the smiling, destitute child, I still found myself alone in the freezing rain hoisting a huge tree that “nobody absolutely hated” onto the roof of the Audi. From my vantage point on the rear bumper I could see the white scratch marks from last year’s trip to the tree farm,  and as I was circling the car like a May pole and tossing twine into and over and through and around again I felt something suddenly move in my chest. It sent a ghostly shudder through all forty-eight of my Christmas Pasts.

I was thinking about how I’d have to invent a knot to fix the twine to the top of the car door. Every year this happens. I’m just tying and tying and tying and I can’t make the tying stop, and this year it would be no different. I’d have to invent a new knot right in front of the Alaskan fisherman who was watching me with an odd look on his face I didn’t like. For a moment I tried to focus on the tree that “nobody absolutely hated” – it had no gaping patches, the tiering of layers was adequate. Neither too tall nor too small, it would fit beneath the tiny, slanted roof of our temporary home. I tried to imagine crawling beneath it with a water pitcher, testing the level with my fingers in the bucket, and spilling into the circular Christmas throw rug. I summoned the thought of carrying the 400 pound tree stand down from the attic and pinning a Glad Bag twenty in dead branches for the Boy Scouts to take away.

And just then, in honest-to-God slow motion, I see the children looking at me through the window of the car and mouthing “are you done yet? It’s cold in here.”

The little Christmas tree in my heart cracked and toppled over.

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This year we have a plastic tree. Yay!

The small Underwriter’s Laboratory warning manual says that as long as we don’t water the base of it or mount candles on its branches, the Heathen 2000 should outlast our descendants. I’m not very good at math, but for the budget minded that’s something like $100*2000, which is easily two million dollars. It’s like found money. The tree weighs one pound seven ounces. You can fold it up into a shoebox on the morning of the 26th by pulling a ripcord at the base of the stump. It is made out of carbon fiber. The lights come pre-loaded and all you have to do is plug it in and download the iPad software. Other than its extreme flammability and children shouldn’t play near or around it, it is a perfect tree. It comes with a plastic tub of incense sticks that you cannot tell from real smell of pine. We held them to each other’s noses like we were at Sephora’s. For the record Consumer’s Digest said it was the second best Christmas tree available and Lowe’s had it in stock and the bag boy carried it out to the car. I didn’t even tip him. Best of all it looks fantastic from the street, and “nobody absolutely hates” it.

Merry Christmas! Have fun at the Christmas Tree lot!