7. The Perfect Tree

7. The Perfect Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

The Perfect Tree

The pursuit of perfection, then, is the pursuit of sweetness and light.

~Matthew Arnold

Visions of Christmas trees have been dancing in my head for weeks. I dreamed of a glorious tree adorned with lights, expensive ornaments, and topped with a beautiful store-bought angel. I pictured it in my mind: shining ribbon cascading gently from top to bottom, strategically placed porcelain ornaments, and brilliant baubles on every bough. This year, my vision was shattered the moment the tree went up and the kids got their hands on the boxes of decorations.

Untangling the lights is a family event. How can seven strands of lights get tangled up in a box when we only use two on the tree each year? I’ve come to the conclusion that they must be multiplying in the garage over the summer. As I wound lights and attached ribbon, the children were waist-deep in decorations, fighting over who got to hang what. All four rushed to the tree, hanging ornaments on the same branch, then argued over whose should be moved. I love the way they settle their disagreements. Sometimes, the one who gets there first triumphs. And sometimes they decide by birth order. But when my preschool daughter stomped on her brother’s foot and insisted, “Ladies first,” she won.

I did my best to squeeze between them here and there to place a few ornaments of my own on the top branches, placing each one in just the right spot. To the left, I hung the tiny porcelain sleigh from the gift shop downtown. And to the right, I tied the silvery bells that I’d purchased while on a trip last fall. I wanted to create a tree like the ones I’d seen in the home and garden magazines. One that even Martha Stewart could be proud of. My kids of course, had other plans.

Fifteen minutes into the decorating process, the tree leaned hard to the left. I took a step back and realized that the children had emptied an entire cardboard box of decorations, all of which were hanging on the front, lower branches. I wanted the tree to be perfect and they just didn’t get it. This was supposed to be a Christmas to remember. Why couldn’t they be more creative? When no one was looking, I made a few adjustments. The lower boughs still sagged a bit, but at least the tree didn’t topple over.

Late evening was upon us, and we were eager to shut off the lights in the room and view our work of art. Just as I reached for the switch, into the living room came the cat, followed closely by the Beast, AKA our Labrador Retriever. The cat found refuge in the tree, just under the angel and the dog stood close by, her boomerang tail wagging furiously, smashing four bulbs. The kids laughed hysterically as I dug in the tree with one hand and tried to hold the dog back with the other. Upon receiving a multitude of scratches, I decided it was easier to let the cat stay where she was and lock the dog in the garage.

I looked at the tree and shook my head in disappointment. It leaned sharply to one side. The ribbon was mussed up, none of the ornaments were hung symmetrically and the angel that sat atop was handmade, not the porcelain one I had counted on. There were no crystal snowflakes and not a single silver icicle. Not to mention the fact that there were three, half-eaten candy canes sticking to the nativity ornament. This tree certainly didn’t compare to those I’d been admiring online and in magazines since October. I sighed and plugged it in anyway.

The lights twinkled and danced, and I was instantly overwhelmed. My children’s eyes lit up, and mine brimmed with tears. As I looked, I didn’t see the same unsightly tree I had just moments before. There, before me, was the most beautiful Christmas tree I had ever laid eyes on. Those low branches that swept the floor were filled with ornaments that my children adored. Ceramic Santas and elves sat side by side and I even spied one that read “Baby’s First Christmas.” I could see where little hands had placed the paper ornaments that they had lovingly created in school. Cotton-ball snowmen and felt ice skates accompanied the tiny painted pinecones and the ornaments that I had crafted with my own mother when I was a child. And just under the cross-stitch bears from my grandma were the sequined ornaments that were sent to me by my husband’s grandmother, whom I had never had the honor of meeting. That tree was a part of every member of my family and the mere sight of it was breathtaking.

I am reminded, during moments such as these, that the most important gifts I could ever receive are the ones that have already been given to me. I am reminded to give more freely of my heart, and to take time to see Christmas as it’s meant to be seen.

~Ann Morrow

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