Let’s Get Real

Let’s Get Real

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

Let’s Get Real

For years and years, our family celebrated Christmas with an artificial tree. The tradition caught on during the seventies when we were living in Australia and it was hotter’n all get-out during the month of December. While the Aussies smothered themselves with zinc cream as they sunbaked on the beach, our family held tenaciously to its American customs, insisting on a traditional sit-down Christmas dinner and, of course, a real-looking tree.

Unfortunately, the heat was too extreme to trust an evergreen, and those who did were soon sorry. Fearing a not-so-festive display of bare branches or, worse yet, a house fire, we opted for the artificial. White plastic, to be exact.

“It looks gross,” my kids whined.

And try as we might to cover it with handmade or imported ornaments, it somehow never made the grade. Meanwhile, year after year, we piled our gifts underneath the fake tree—never even noticing that, with age, it had slowly turned yellow.

Our first yuletide back in America was electric. Dallas, Texas, was never billed as Christmas-in-Vermont, but the possibilities were everywhere. Nurseries from Plano to Waco showcased a winter wonderland of snow-flocked, bushy Scotch pines. Roadside stands, advertised solely by a single strand of swinging lightbulbs, beckoned at dusk for highway travelers to stop and shop in a forest of firs. And supermarkets all around the city did their bit by offering a variety of spruce and cedars to their customers.

Once again, we considered the possibility of buying a real tree. Having discarded our white plastic tradition on a friend’s doorstep when we left Australia, our kids had high hopes that America could make all their dreams come true. But eventually, dreams gave way to budget, and we hauled home yet another inexpensive imitation.

“At least this one is green,” I told them, “and besides, we won’t have the repeated cost of buying a freshly cut tree every Christmas.”

So, for the next fifteen years, we piled our gifts beneath the branches of a manufactured pine—never even noticing that, with age, it had slowly lost its beauty.

This year, however, something magical took place. It happened one night as I approached the electronic doors of our neighborhood grocery store. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a breathtakingly beautiful, real-live Christmas tree, leaning near the entrance. It was there with all the others, yet standing apart. I made a detour to take a second look.

The grand fir that caught my attention stood ten feet high. It was indeed a lofty tree, and I ran my fingers over the needles, surprised by their softness.

Hmmm, maybe this is why children love real trees at Christmas, I thought, smelling the woodsy fragrance in the air.

A store clerk was working at the far end, slowly watering the trees and making his way in my direction. But I was in no hurry, so I waited. When he saw me admiring the fir, he called out, “Hey, great tree for hanging ornaments!”

I acknowledged him by waving and stepping back to make my final decision. At that very moment, a prerecorded Christmas carol cascaded through the sound system, out into the night. Customers rushed past—some going in, some going out—more or less oblivious to the majestic music filling the air. And the words spilled across the busy parking lot, “No-el, No-el, No-el, No-el. Born is the king of Is-rael,” to the accompaniment of a Salvation Army bell ringer just outside the door.

As I stood in the shadow of that noble fir, I knew this was the year I needed to buy a real tree. For no other reason than this is a real story being told, a real message being sung, and a real occasion to celebrate.

So this year, for the very first time ever, our family will pile all our Christmas gifts underneath a towering noble fir—never even noticing that, with age, we’re slowly becoming believers all over again.

Charlotte A. Lanham

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