My family’s first Christmas present of the year is always the Christmas tree, because we never see it until we bring it home.
For the past four years my family has gone to Home Depot (I know, very romantic and Christmas-y of us) and picked out a Christmas tree from the pile of wrapped “recent deliveries” still spooled up in shipping twine. It takes about five minutes to select a victim, another ten to pay and load it in the back of my Little Toy Truck, and six or seven more to drive it home. Only once we get the tree in its stand do we unwrap the shipping twine and see what we’ve picked.
The odd tradition started in December 2007, when a flurry of last-minute distractions kept us from picking a tree until about ten days before Christmas. We bundled into the car (in the kind of moods you might expect from a harried family that HAS TO FIND A TREE TODAY) and headed off to select our Christmas tree.
The first lot had no noble firs left at all.
The second lot had specimens that even Charlie Brown couldn’t love.
The third lot brought new meaning to “overpriced,” and by the time we finished there we’d lost our Christmas Spirit and were tempted to start looking for the kind that comes in fifths.
As we tried to decide on another place to look for a tree, my husband suggested Home Depot.
“HOME DEPOT?? Are you insane? We can’t get a tree from Home Depot!” (It’s a good thing I love this man, or I might be writing this from prison now.)
“They have good trees and they’re cheap.”
“I don’t want a cheap tree!” (This last on the verge of tears.)
But with nowhere else to look, and night coming on, I gave in and we went to Home Depot. Like the other lots, they were almost out of trees.
I asked the manager when the next shipment was coming.
He looked at me with pity. “This is it. There won’t be any more this close to Christmas.”
I looked with sorrow at the pathetic piles of leftover twined-up trees. It didn’t matter what they looked like. My perfect tree wasn’t there. Spirit broken, I agreed to the first tree we came across. I didn’t even want to unwind the twine and face the bitter truth.
“Let’s just load it on the car like that,” I said. “It’s the only eight-foot fir. Whatever it is will have to do.”
We loaded the tree and took it home. I struggled not to cry. At least we would have a tree, and I knew I could accept it once it had lights and ornaments on. At home we set the tree in the stand, tightened the bolts and cut the twine. My husband and Tesla unwound the string and the branches began to expand.
When they finished I found myself face-to-needle with the most beautiful Christmas tree we had ever brought home. It was eight feet tall, unbelievably full and without a single hole.
A Christmas miracle (and, in my case, thoroughly undeserved).
Then I did cry. I’m not much of a sobber but that tree made me weep. All the frustration and sorrow, stress and worry and angst I had put into the extended search had made no difference. The cheap, unseen, last-minute tree was perfect after all – as my husband had somehow known it would be. We spent a happy evening decorating our Christmas tree, miserable search all but forgotten in a glow of carols, memories and lights.
A family tradition was born that day. Every tree comes from Home Depot now and we always pick them sight-unseen. There are no unhappy moments. The tree comes home in a flurry of Christmas joy and we take it on faith that each one will prove as beautiful as the last. The method may backfire on us someday, but it hasn’t happened yet.
I learned a lesson from that first Home Depot tree. It’s easy to lose Christmas in the trees and lights and string, to forget that love and family are more important than having things “just so.” Christmas is a holiday built on faith and the surrender of control, a choice to rely on the unseen and trust in something other than ourselves. The mystery tree brought that home to me in a very physical way – and since that day I’ve never wanted to pick a tree the way we did before. We start our Christmas season in reliance upon the fact that whichever tree we bring home will be not only good enough but perfect in its way – just like our blessed but unexpected lives.
I’m writing this by a Christmas tree festooned with twinkling lights and hung with memories from my past. We picked it out in our now-traditional way, and like its predecessors it reminds me that I can take some things on faith. Even if they aren’t perfect, they are beautiful just the same – like family, friends, and life itself.
Merry Christmas to everyone who reads this – and if it’s not your holiday, I trust you won’t take offense. I am truly blessed and grateful for you all.