The perfect tree.
If you celebrate Christmas, you’ve undoubtedly gone on at least one epic quest to find the perfect Christmas tree. And believe me, the search for the holy grail of conifers can be a daunting task. Even if, instead of trekking through the woods with a saw and a sled, you pull yours from a big box and assemble it in the middle of the living room, there had to be that first year when you went on the search for the perfect artificial tree. My mother, who gave up on real trees somewhere around the same time my parents divorced, bought hers during one of the big “after Christmas” sales.
This year, I got mine from the parking lot of one of the big box building supply stores. I found it in less than ten minutes time (it was really cold, and I didn’t have a coat.)
But it wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time, in a childhood far, far away, the annual quest for a Christmas tree was something far more epic.
Now, in my house, there was none of this “putting up the tree at the end of November” nonsense. My father made us wait until the weekend closest to December 10th to get a tree. We never complained, and we always had our tree decorated at least two weeks before Christmas. It also created a level of excitement throughout the first ten days of December that came close to rivaling the holiday itself.
The day was always clearly marked on the calendar.
My mother made us an Advent Calendar with a giant felt Christmas tree. The calendar pockets were filled with delicate felt decorations…stars, stockings, wrapped packages, a small tree, and Santa, to name a few. My sister and I woke each morning and raced to the calendar to put the next ornament on the felt tree. The smaller tree represented the day we would trek out into the woods to find the real tree.
We lived deep in the country in upstate New York, where almost every day in December brought with it near blizzard conditions, and the snow was almost always up to my knees. Mom would bundle us up in snow pants and fur-lined coats until only our eyes were visible to the outside, like Kenny from South Park. But despite the inclement weather…the blowing snow and ice…nothing deterred us as we set out to find that perfect Christmas tree. With a saw in hand, and two young daughters in tow, my father would lead my mother into the winter wonderland.
We trudged deeper into the woods, passing tree after imperfect tree, as my mother would reject each one for some reason or other.
“No…”she would say. “Too short.” or, “Too tall.”
The next tree was, “Too skinny.” And the one after that, “Too fat.”
The more trees we passed, the more frustrated my father would become.
Again and again he would ask, “…what’s wrong with this one?”
“It’s completely bare on one side,” was a frequent reply.
And every time, my father would shake his head and grumble under his breath.
After what seemed like hours, as the sun was getting lower in the sky, we would finally find a tree my mother could agree on. It wasn’t too fat or too skinny. Not too tall or too short. And it wasn’t bare on one side.
“This one!” she would shout. And before she could change her mind, my father would whip out the saw to cut the tree down.
Now, we were pretty far into the woods at this point, and without a sled to tow the tree back to the car, my father would drag it behind him, leaving a Christmas tree shaped trail in the snow. Once the tree was loaded on the roof of the car…tied down with enough twine to secure a dozen trees…we would head home to do the decorating.
My mother pulled out the boxes of ornaments and lights while my father wrestled the tree, first into the iron base, then into the living room. Mom always seemed to be too distracted with untangling lights to notice as Dad brought the tree in to the room.
But it wasn’t long before she turned around to see her perfect tree, propped up in its base, and ready for lights.
“This isn’t the tree I picked out!”
“It’s the same tree.” Dad would grumble.
“It’s not the same tree. Look here…” she pointed to the side of the tree at a very bare patch of limbs. “This has a great big bare spot!”
I think it must have been Christmas amnesia, because every year, after dragging the perfect tree from the woods to the car, it found its way to the living room with a giant bare spot that was invariably up front and center. And every year my mother reacted as if this was something horrible.
This is where the spinning of the tree came in.
My mother would give orders as my father rotated the tree, trying to ensure the bare spot would be hidden from view. And every year, I listened to, “No, a little more to the right. Wait…a little to the left. No…go back to the right. I can still see it. Can you see it from…try turning it just a little more…I said RIGHT!”
And then Dad, “It’s fine right where it is! No! I won’t turn it just a little more to the left. No! You can’t see the bare spot from this side. I don’t care if you can see if from the bathroom. Just put more tinsel on it!”
By the time they had the giant colored lights strung, they weren’t speaking at all. Mom finished hanging the ornaments herself, and my sister and I helped toss giant wads of tinsel onto the branches.
It was always the most beautiful tree ever.
As I've discovered over the years, there are some things you look forward to each year, and you don’t even realize how important they are until you have a chance to miss them.
My husband doesn’t do the tree lights. He doesn’t hang ornaments. He will go with me to pick a tree and he will quietly stand by and wait until I have chosen the perfect one.
Without a single word.
Somehow I think he’s missing out on the best part of the whole thing.
My mom is in town for Christmas and I managed to talk her into baking cookies and pies with me. But I'm no fool. I've seen her glancing at my Christmas tree, undoubtedly scrutinizing it with eyes only a mother has. And like every other year, I just smile and nod when she tells me there’s a great big bare spot in the back. I don't even tell her I like it that way.
Until the next time…Merry Christmas everyone!