Each year, New York’s Rockefeller Center features a magnificent tree to be seen in person or on television. It's huge, gloriously resplendent with color, and flashing lights. But for us on a broke Christmas Eve, we were forced to resort to Plan B.
There's something obscene about spending so much money at Christmastime. It’s not like we’re the Three Wise Men hiking across the desert to gift the baby Jesus. I don’t even know what frankincense is, let alone myrrh. My kids say it was the original Airwick, but I digress. Let’s get down to the most important symbol of all: the Christmas tree itself.
One long-ago year, my Dad was out of work, much as fathers are today, but he was determined we'd have a tree just the same. All four of us, Dad, Mom, my sister and I, went to McNally’s lot, the place where a local man sold pumpkins at Halloween and Christmas trees for a month before the holiday.
A quick look told us we couldn’t afford any of the tall, full, beautiful trees. Then we spied the worst looking thing on the entire lot. To have called it “scrawny” would’ve been an understatement. It had a skinny trunk an 8-year-old could put her thumb and forefinger completely around, and it had hardly any branches; those it had were pitiful. Besides all that, it tilted further than the Tower of Pisa. My sister and I looked at each other in teary dismay. We could never invite friends over this year.
Undaunted, Dad fished a quarter out of his pocket and bought it. For another dime, Mr. McNally sold him some loose boughs his seasonal customers used for making wreaths for their doors. One good thing about that tree was that it was the lightest one to carry and we hardly did any slip-sliding on the ice almost all the way home.
Upon arrival, Dad started to use his fertile imagination, like DaVinci must have done when he first looked up at the empty ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.
First, Dad found the spot where the tree started its downward tilt, and sawed the trunk off just above that spot. When he finished, the tree was straight, even though it was much shorter. “So what?” said Dad, “Napoleon was short and people admired him.”
He then drilled holes here and there on the rest of the trunk, filed down the woody end of the extra boughs until they came to a point, rubbed some glue on them, and pushed them into the new holes. Mom looked on approvingly, and my sister and I finally began to see the efficient results of Dad’s Plan B for our Christmas Tree. The crookedest tree on McNally’s lot was beginning to look like a real Christmas tree after all.
We couldn’t use strings of lights, for the wiring would be too heavy for the fragile new branches to bear, so Mom had us get the special box of thin glass ornaments from the attic, the same ornaments our paternal grandmother had brought when she emigrated from Germany, and charged us with locating the smallest, lightest ones. Then, ever so gently and very carefully, she hung these treasures from the trees homemade limbs.
We helped her finish the decorating job with many strands of last year's tinsel, which glittered when the light from a nearby floor lamp was directed toward it. That tree twinkled as if it had real lights on it.
Due to the shortened height of our special tree that year, we didn't need to be hoisted up on Dad's shoulders to place the family’s traditional silver-winged angel at the very top. We just stood on tippy toes. When we finished, we had created a tree every bit as beautiful as any on McNally’s lot.
That short, scraggy, slanting little tree was transformed before our very eyes into a beautiful, straight, and shining example of what Christmas is really all about.
The moral of this story is that even though you don't trek through starry nights to get to baby Jesus in the manger, you can show your love by using the gifts God gave you: creativity, imagination, and a set of Black & Decker.