Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Real Christmas Tree

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 1, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse. 

The three girls chattered happily as they ran from tree to tree on Papa Great’s property. He had suggested that they come to choose a real Christmas tree from his woods. Even though there were so many to choose from, it didn’t take long to find a tree they liked. But they kept looking to see if there was another tree that they liked better. After looking at dozens of trees, they decided to look again at the first tree that had caught their eye. After much discussion and taking a vote, they decided on the tree. 

Papa Great brought a small bow saw for the girls to use to cut down the tree. One girl worked for a few minutes, and then another girl, but the tree still stood. When the two girls decided to work together, one on each side of the bow saw, using it as a small crosscut saw, they finished the job in a minute. The girls had their live Christmas tree. They planned to put the tree on Grandma’s deck.

While they were searching for the perfect tree, Grandma told them a story from when she was a girl. For as long as she could remember, there had been an aluminum Christmas tree in her house each Christmas. Artificial aluminum trees were shiny and felt very modern. The aluminum tree at her home was lit with different colors by a color wheel placed under the tree. The color wheel had four colored segments on a plastic wheel; when the wheel rotated, a light shone through the plastic, lighting the tree’s metallic branches with different colors. 

But this year, She and her sisters decided that they wanted to get a real Christmas tree. They planned to get a tree and have it put up before their parents got home from work. They pooled their money and walked the half mile to the Arlan’s store where they knew there were Christmas trees for sale in the parking lot. There were so many to choose from, but the girls finally decided on a tree and paid for it. Suddenly they realized that there was part of the plan they hadn’t thought through. How were they going to get the tree home?

There was nothing that they could do but try to carry the tree home. I can imagine the looks the girls received from the passersby as they trudged along the busy city thoroughfare, struggling to hold on to and carry the sizeable Christmas tree. When they finally got home, they realized that they had another problem. They had chosen a tree that was much too tall to fit in their house. They looked through their Daddy’s tools and found a small hand saw. They began trying to cut off the bottom of the tree so it would fit in the house. As they were sawing on the tree, they heard Daddy’s truck drive into the driveway. They knew that their plan of having the tree put up in the living room before their parents got home wasn’t going to happen. 

Daddy was shocked to see his girls dauntlessly trying to cut off the bottom of an oversized Christmas tree. But with his help, the girls were able to put the tree up. This year they would have a real tree, not an artificial one. The girls still remember this memorable Christmas even though it happened over fifty years ago. The story of that Christmas tree brings back special memories. 

After Grandma told the girls the story of the real Christmas tree, Papa Great told them a Christmas tree story from his childhood. He grew up in Kansas during the depression. No one ever bought a Christmas tree. He lived in a place with no evergreen trees, so they would cut a leafless tree and put it up for a Christmas tree. One Christmas, Papa Great’s older brother, decided that they should have a proper Christmas tree. So, the three siblings walked a mile to where they knew there was a large cedar tree. Papa Great’s brother climbed up into the tree and cut a few branches. They carried the branches home and tied them together to try and fashion them into a Christmas tree. That Christmas, they had a real evergreen tree in the house, even if it was just a few branches tied together. 

The girls could see the happy memories in Papa Great’s eyes even though the event had happened almost eighty years ago. And hopefully, these girls will remember the Christmas that they went to Papa Great’s and cut down their own Christmas tree. Kathryn Butler writes, “memory binds us to places that forget us, and to moments that no one else values.” But our memories are important. They shape who we are.

Poet Wendell Berry has observed that when we are young, our lives are all time and very little memory. As we grow older, we discover that our lives are almost entirely memory and very little time. It is important to remember. Memory can be a tremendous blessing. It can bring smiles, laughs, or even tears of joy as we look at pictures, share stories, or think about the good times of bygone days. The character Kevin on the TV show The Wonder Years said, “Memory is the way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.”

The crucial importance of memories recurs throughout the Bible. At the end of his life, Moses urges the people whom he’s shepherded for forty years to “be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you don’t forget the things which you have seen with your own eyes. Don’t let them fade from your memory as long as you live. Teach them to your children and grandchildren.” Deuteronomy 4:9 (NOG)

Gentle Reader, this Christmas, make new memories! Make lots of happy memories. Everyone has memories, both painful and joyful. But you can make plenty of positive memories to overshadow the difficult ones. And while you are making new memories, remember the blessings God has given you in the past. Pray the prayer of David found in Psalms 143:5,6 (ICB). “I remember what happened long ago. I recall everything you have done. I think about all you have made. I lift my hands to you in prayer. As a dry land needs rain, I thirst for you.” Merry Christmas and Happy Memories.

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