I have beautiful memories of getting our Christmas tree as a child. Running through tree farms on snowy Kansas days picking just the right tree while we sipped on hot cocoa. It was always one of my favorite Christmas traditions, so this year when we needed to get a new tree, we decided it was going to be real… and magical and perfect.
But it was not everything I had imagined.
One mild December day I told my husband it was time and we loaded up the kids and headed out to start our new family tradition.
We didn’t drive an hour to a secluded country Christmas tree farm singing carols. We went about five miles down the road to the farmer’s market on a noisy highway next to a gas station.
There was no snow or hot cocoa, I just made my kids put on hats and coats to make it look like it was a cold winter’s day (it wasn’t).
There was no thrill of the hunt like in my childhood. We simply walked through a row of trees and when we noticed the price tags (!), we picked the smallest one we could find.
It happened so fast that I quickly whipped out my iPhone to take pictures and, to follow suit, the battery was dead. So I didn’t get a single picture in the ten minutes we were there. The only satisfying part of the whole afternoon was having that dang tree tied to the top of our car just like in the movies. I felt like a real Griswold.
We got it home. My husband carried it in (got a picture of that). We stuck it in the corner, and everyone went off to play. I, on the other hand, was left alone to straighten it, secure it, string lights on it, decorate it… just about everything. If my Christmas tree fantasy was a solo act, I was living the dream.
And when it was all done I stepped back to take a good long look.
She was not what I had imagined.
Apparently the trees in this part of the country are… what shall I say… “fluffier” than where I grew up, because in the two hours we had her home her branches had already started to sag and droop under the weight of our ornaments.
She was shorter than I realized and looked a little nubby in our corner.
I had seen so many fake Christmas trees — perfectly shaped, tall, slender, triangular things — that suddenly our real tree looked like a chia pet that was due for a trim. Branches stuck out haphazardly here and there. The top was stiff and scraggly and shot at least an extra foot into the sky. One side was floppier than the other, and half of our ornaments were too heavy for those droopy branches. And the shedding… good Lord! I could have built a whole new tree from the needles that covered my floor.
But there it stood. For four weeks that saggy shaggy leaning tower of pine needle rain sat in our corner bringing Christmas cheer.
She was more than I could have ever imagined.
Nearly every day I would sit and stare at that imperfect, crooked little Christmas tree with my heart simply swelling, because I knew that Divine lessons like that only come around once a year.
Nothing about our tree was perfect, but it was real. It really needed water to drink and it really needed help standing on its own. If you smelled it, it smelled like pine. If you touched it, the needles would come off in your fingertips. If you put weight on it, it would sag. And if you hung lights on it, it would sparkle like Times Square.
Just. Like. Us.
You see, our Christmas was not perfect. It was a little rough around the edges, actually. There were magical moments, and moments of pure chaos. We nagged and annoyed. We loved and laughed. It was not a perfect Christmas, but that tree was there as a perfect little reminder that really imperfect is always better than perfectly fake.
Because in real life, for the lucky ones who know us, the reality is we are all crooked little Christmas trees.
We all need to be nourished and nurtured. We all need help to stand. Under the weight of this world, we all sag. And we’re all just a little uneven and could use a good trim.
Getting to where we are in life was maybe not as glorious as we had once imagined, and there’s a chance you found us on the side of a busy road next to a gas station instead of out in some dreamy postcard field.
Some of us are a solo act and all the characters have left us to make this life on our own the very best we can.