Our tall, grand, and clumsy tree

Like the best gifts, the perfect Christmas tree sometimes comes in smaller sizes.

P. Kevin Morley/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP/file
FESTIVE FIR: A customer lugs a tree through the snow at a Christmas tree lot in Richmond, Va.

"Time to go chop down our Christmas tree!" my husband enthusiastically announced. "Clean up the playroom; we need to leave in 10 minutes."

"Hurrah! After, can we stop at Grandma and Grandpa's house like we did last year?" my daughters asked.

Bounding upstairs, my two daughters raced to get on their coats and boots. They seemed more than eager for our hour drive to the country, where the most perfect Christmas tree in the world, 10-feet of pure Fraser fir glory, awaited our arrival. The tree, which stood opposite a small lake in a field of towering pines, would still, we hoped, wear the "sold" tag we had placed upon its branches at Thanksgiving.

"Don't forget your boots and snow pants," I reminded my girls. "It might be muddy in the fields."

All zipped up in our fluffy parkas, we were the abominable snow family, packed in our van and ready for winter adventure.

After endless stanzas of "Jingle Bells," we finally arrived at the tree farm. Scurrying down the dirt road, we easily found the little lake and, opposite it, our crowning glory. "Daddy, Daddy! We found it!" the girls squealed, jumping up and down beside "our" tree.

Saw in hand, my husband ducked under the prickly branches and attempted to find the base. I was instructed to "catch" the tree and halt its inevitable descent onto the muddy ground (wet branches make for quite a mess during the decorating phase). I felt the massive tree lean my way as my husband freed the base from its roots in the cold ground. Soon I was overpowered. The soaring pine came crashing down, as I frantically pushed the girls out of the way.

"There, we did it", announced my husband with satisfaction. Picking drips of sticky pine sap off my gloves, I flagged down the wagon driver, to see if he would take the tree back to our car.

"Sorry, that one is just too big to fit on this load", the man said, shaking his head. "I'll be back around in five minutes."

Soon, five minutes turned into 10, then 15. There was no sign of the wagon or our girls, who had run off to play a game of tag.

"I'll have to walk back and get one of those little carts," my husband said. I secretly hoped my husband wasn't referring to one of the wobbly contraptions I saw others pulling uphill. The cold wind snuck inside my down coat, and I started to wonder if this was really worth it. As I rounded up the girls, I finally spotted relief: The wagon man was heading our way. I flagged him down and pointed to our tree, which he hoisted atop his load. My husband, out of breath and patience, could only shake his head when we found him near the baling area, still searching for a cart.

"Is it time to go yet?" my girls asked. Fortunately, a snack stand offered a welcome diversion – popcorn and hot chocolate – as we waited for my husband to hoist the tree atop our van. Our fir, wrapped like a present in neon-orange bungee cord, held all the hopes of Christmas. Yet, somehow, my holiday spirit had waned.

Checking my watch, I couldn't believe how the day had gotten away from us. It was already late afternoon, and we still had to drive an hour home and then attempt to get the tree into its stand.

As we drove away, my husband sighed. His sweat-stained shirt, covered in mud and sap, was evidence of a day's work. What is this all about? I thought to myself. Here we were, all tired and grumpy. Is this what Christmas is supposed to be? What about love? What about fun times with family?

"Do you want to stop at your mom's house on the way home?" my husband asked.

As usual, he seemed to read my mind. Yes, I do want to stop and say "hi" to Mom and her husband. Yes, I would love to relax and unwind in the comfort of my mother's farmhouse.

As we walked in the door, warm cinnamon smells wafted over us, sure evidence of Mom's homemade sticky buns baking in the oven. We were welcomed with kisses and hugs, then warmed with hot coffee and bar cookies. Christmas coloring books and crayons for the kids magically appeared, giving Mom and me time to chat. We feasted on warm rolls and creamy cups of Jersey milk, as we sat around the large wooden table, reviewing Christmas cards from family and friends.

As I looked around the log cabin farmhouse, I noticed Mom's simple decorations – a pine wreath on the door and a miniature Christmas tree on a side table. The tree, not more than a foot tall, struck a chord somewhere deep inside me. We had just spent the better part of a day searching for the perfect tree, and ended up exhausted and irritable. Yet, here in this farmhouse, surrounded by family and a perfectly simple tabletop tree, our spirits had been rejuvenated. Christmas love had been found where it began: in an unpretentious, quiet way.

Later that week, I could only shake my head when our mammoth tree, decorated to perfection, decided to fall over and crash to the floor in our sunroom. Choosing to laugh instead of cry, we swept up broken ornament pieces and gave thanks that nobody had been hurt.

"Christmas isn't about a tree," my husband comforted our girls.

The message of Christmas, once hidden behind 10-feet of pine boughs, had finally toppled over into my heart.

(Editor's note: The original version misspelled the author's name.)

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