If the Christmas Tree Falls, and Nobody is Home, Does Silent Night Stop Playing?


Our first year of marriage, Jason did not want to get a Christmas Tree. It wasn’t a Bah Humbugh attitude so much as a practical perspective. A tree did not survive the monthly budget cuts and our tiny apartment hardly provided enough room for a couch. I countered his practicality by reminding him about the little farm just north of Corvallis that boasted “All Trees $10.” After promising not to get anything taller than three feet, I had him sold on the idea.

We drove our little green truck up the gravel road, borrowed a saw from the owner, and began to wander through the rows of sweet-smelling pines. Jason and I quickly realized that the price of trees was based on their grooming — or lack there of. At this farm, there was no pruning into perfect cones, but each tree was simply allowed to grow at will. I immediately fell in love with every one of them and the personality they posessed. I decided that the only way to choose was to find the fattest tree on the farm. A criteria that Jason tried to debate, but I quickly reminded him I only agreed on a height requirement.

That day we went home with a 6×3 christmas tree. That is, 6 feet in diameter by three feet tall. Jason didn’t say much the whole way home. Apparently we had different definitions of a small, Charlie Brown type Fir. He also didn’t say much when we got home and he had to fit it through the three-foot-wide front door . . . just lots of grunting and grumbling, a couple big heaves, and the tree was in. He didn’t say much when it cost more to buy enough lights to go around the tree than it cost to buy the tree itself. But for the following three weeks when there was nowhere to go and no way to maneuver through the living room because of the massive bush, he said a lot of things. All of which were definitely bah humbugh moments.

In a funny way, this became our first family tradition. Each year we returned to that tree farm where I would continue up and down every row until I was convinced that the one I found indeed posessed the greatest girth. Jason would then grunt and groan trying to get the tree in the door and then moan and whine about how much space it took up. Even as our apartments and then houses got bigger, he would still gripe, and I would still feel like it was Christmas.

When Teagan was old enough, I taught her how to find the fattest tree . . .that was the same year she had to go to the bathroom halfway through the hunt. I taught her how to “pee in the woods” as well that day. A fact she shared with everyone, even the owner. Eventually, TJ was also trained in the art of finding the tree that would annoy daddy the most. And the family tradtition was official.

Three years ago that tree farm closed and Christmas has just not been the same. The first year, we walked to a farm close to our house and I was devestated to find only perfectly trimmed trees, pointy tops and pyramid branches. Last year we drove all the way to a Farm in Kings Valley because their ad in the paper claimed “even untrimmed trees.” Turned out the “untrimmed tree”section was a small back corner of the the farm and they were not so much untrimmed as they were neglected. Again, I left with a spiny, green, pine-scented cone that did not even compare to the trees off that funky old farm in North Corvallis. This year we just went to the most convenient place. I tried to be enthusiastic, but how does one get excited when all the options look the same.

This year, though, the tree we picked turned out to be too tall and had to be trimmed funny to fit in the house. Teagan decorated it herself and Jason put the lights on, which only added to the funky effect. Then, two weeks ago, TJ was playing tree ninja and knocked the whole thing over. I propped it back up, but it was left leaning slightly to the right with saggy lights. About a week ago, the dog whacked it with his tail and it fell over again. Ironically, most of our ornaments are dog shaped and in this crash about four lost their tails. And the lights sagged a little more. Four days ago, Teagan did one cartwheel too many and again the tree toppled. Three more tails were added to the pile of things that need to be glued back together, and the lights sagged a little more. Yesterday, I breathed funny and the tree hit the floor.

The tree now sits leaning against the wall. Most of it’s ornaments are missing at least one body part and are scattered on the tree skirt– I just haven’t had the heart to pick them up again, let alone glue dog legs and tails back on. The lights are tangled, twisted and, yes, a little more saggy. And the poor thing is turning yellow from all the abuse. I would really like to take the whole thing apart, put the tree on the curb and go buy a new one from the Boy Scouts. But even if I did, it still won’t feel like Christmas until Jason is moping around the house complaining about how fat the tree is.

it does not feel like christmas. it feels like a mess.

I guess the first Christmas was pretty messy too, though. Surely Mary, who believed that she would be giving birth to the Son of God, must have thought she had made a mess of things when her and Joseph ended up in a stable. I bet she never imagined that she would be bringing the Savior of the Universe into the world and have nothing to offer but a pile of hay. She was given no time to make it a place fit for a King, let alone fit for a baby. But only God could take a mess, put it in a manger, and bring forth a Messiah.

That’s the magic of Christmas. We offer our biggest messes, our humble mangers, and God gives us a miracle.

I know a lot of people who are living through this Christmas as a year that “just isn’t the same.” People who face the holidays with sons at war daughters gone astray. People who must face the holiday without spouses and parents and children for God has taken them home. I know people who look at the presents under the tree as a pitiful attempt to make something happen in economic times that have left them jobless, and they feel like they have failed. There are those who will spend Christmas in a hospital bed, those whose frailities war with christmas cheer. I know people who are just trying to keep up with school parties and new babies and church pageants and now feel like everything has become a mess in the process of trying to keep up.

But if we had it all together, if things were simply the same all the time, we could not experience the magic of christmas. Jesus did not come to avoid the messes of life, to be exhaulted and treated as royalty. He was born right into the messiness of life — not enough time, not enough room. Christmas is not a time to achieve pefection, it is a time to bring all our messes to the manger and to experience the miracle that is Jesus.

The wise men brought frankincense and myrrh. I bring saggy lights and broken dog parts. I bring all the things of the year past . . .all the things that make this Christmas not the same as years ago. I bring them again to meet my Messiah, to remember that he understands the messes, he has been through them too. I bring them to the manger and wait for the miracle.

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