The story below is an excerpt from our November/December 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
It’s holiday season and everyone I know has started planning and preparing. People are gathering presents, food, decorations and everything necessary for the holiday skits. Wait, what? Skits? Yep, I was talking to a friend yesterday and she was lamenting that she was behind in sewing up costumes for their traditional holiday skit. I don’t know about you but the word “skit” has never been used by my family regarding the holidays, unless you count “pass the bis-skits.”
It turns out, it is a tradition in her family that everyone goes to Grandma’s house for the big family meal and afterwards, they all put on skits that they’ve written, practiced, with detailed costumes and perhaps even music.
I know what you’re thinking. But no, this family’s name is not Osmond. There’s no camera crew, no variety show, and no reason for all this extra work. I imagine someone watched a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney re-run one Sunday afternoon and declared, “Hey, let’s put on a show. It’ll be fun. My mom will make costumes.”
My friend swears it’s not just some elaborate scheme to weasel out of washing the mountain of dirty dishes.
My family did have one holiday tradition. Every December, my dad and I would trudge through the fields and woods looking for a Christmas tree that would be perfect. My mom sent us out with the instructions to find the loveliest tree possible. She had high hopes that we would bring back one worthy of a family Christmas card, ideal in every way.
Perfection was not likely to be achieved considering we were chopping down scrub cedars in a cow pasture. Cedar trees that grow through a barbed-wire fence tend not to be perfectly symmetrical. We had very little chance of fulfilling my mother’s Currier and Ives holiday dream, and yet she was constant in her belief that it could be done.
To be honest, we often spent more time checking our rabbit traps and trying to shoo skunks out of them without getting sprayed than actually searching for the prettiest tree. Most years, we’d get cold and tired, opting to chop down a cedar near the pick-up truck. Proximity to our parking spot was as much a factor in tree selection as any other criteria, and when you’ve been tramping in the cold for several hours and can’t feel your nose, it makes as much sense as other evergreen qualities.
Here’s a truth about Christmas trees. They look entirely different in the living room than they did out in the field. What looked majestic in the great outdoors morphs into a lopsided bush, barely fit for birds to nest in, once it crosses the threshold into the house. Every year, Mama would list off all the ways the tree was disappointingly inadequate. One year, I’d had enough. One year, I did the unthinkable.
I must have been about eight years old. I pulled off my wet mittens and my plaid jacket and told my mother that if she didn’t like the tree, she could just take the hatchet and go get another one all by herself. I was hotter than fish grease, mad down to my bones. I marched to my room, slammed my door, and waited for the storm of punishment that should arrive in less than a minute. But it didn’t. I heard nothing. Then I heard Daddy say, “Well, I guess she told you.”
I sat in my room for hours, waiting for the shoe to drop. Finally, hunger made me brave the consequences and I tip-toed out into the hall. The misshapen cedar had been decorated and it was stunning. You can cover a lot of flaws with tinsel and lights, and this little tree sparkled like it was made of diamonds. It looked perfect to me. My parents never said one word on the topic. This little cedar will stand forever in my memory as the most breathtaking Christmas tree ever. Mama had been right, of course. Unadorned, it was crooked, sparse and more than a little bit ugly. But with some attention and some love, it became everything a Christmas tree could ever hope to be.
From my house here on Mill Creek to yours, best wishes for a beautiful, bountiful holiday season. Appreciate the warmth and kindness shown so freely this time of year. If you know of someone who might be feeling like a stubby cow-pasture cedar in a world of elegant Frasier firs, please send some love in that direction. If it can work for a Christmas tree, it just might work for people, too.