A Christmas Story

It’s been years since we cut our own Christmas tree. Both my husband and I grew up finding the perfect ones in groves on National Forest lands, but as adults, we just stopped.

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas pass impossibly fast. It’s hard enough for me to gather presents for friends and family, nonetheless get them wrapped in a way that minimizes embarrassment.

I can continue with the excuses, but let’s be honest, if I was going to spend a weekend decorating my house, I should prioritize organizing that room I never go in, or vacuuming, or doing laundry.

My daughter was only a few months old last year, so we skipped it again. She wouldn’t know.

“When Miriam gets older you’re going to have to get a tree and decorate,” my Christmas-spirit-filled mom told me a couple weeks after Thanksgiving.

“I know. Not this year.”

But when statewide snowstorms cancelled last week’s chukar hunting trip, we decided why not. We would get a small tree, I told Josh. I put emphasis on the word small.

Tree permit in hand, we wandered down white dirt roads as fat snowflakes pelted the windshield. I played a handful of Christmas songs I downloaded years ago. If we were going to do this, we were going to do this.

The southern Black Hills are largely ponderosa forests, not the typical lodgepole pines, which meant our tree would be a little different than most. Someone told me once ponderosa bark smells either like butterscotch or cinnamon. I made a mental note to sniff our tree before felling it.

After an hour of deliberation with a toddler that was entirely unsure of the snow, we found the one. It was full in spots and spindly in others. The long, bushy needles filled in some of the gaps. It was not classically perfect, but perfect for us, and decidedly not small. It smelled like butterscotch.

Miriam napped while I strung lights and brought out ornaments that we’d been dragging from apartment to apartment, and house to house, without ever using.

When she woke up she stumbled into the living room.

Yellow, red and green lights blinked. Glitter-covered snowflakes twinkled. Everything seemed to stop while she stared at her first tree.

Any last bit of humbug evaporated. Cutting a tree, hanging lights, wrapping presents, they aren’t a chore. They’re an outward sign of a holiday I used to love but had started to forget.

Wherever you are this year or next, and whatever your traditions may be, embrace them. Everything else can wait.

Christine PetersonComment