I will never forget the year my brother, Nicholas, and I decided to relieve some of our mother’s holiday stress by volunteering to fetch the family Christmas tree. With saw in hand, we struck out into the forests surrounding Port Albert. We trudged through the deep snow all morning, dismissing tree after tree. And then, hours later, like a frigid mirage, we found it.
It was a gorgeous spruce tree in the bush near the Nine Mile River, two or three kilometers from our house. Checking the tree from every angle, we agreed that we had found what we were looking for. It looked about five feet too tall to fit into our living room. But we were unwilling to let such a prize go and decided to cut it to the necessary size.
A dilemma confronted us, however. The top section of the tree had a sizable hole among the branches. Giving it some thought, we decided that we would lop off the top of the tree and bring home the bottom section where the branches were thick and full. Of course, removing the tapered top essentially meant we now had a square tree.
By the time we got the tree down it was already mid-afternoon and we still had a long haul back home ahead of us. The trek involved dragging the tree out of the woods, across a farmer’s field, through another little bush, up the side of a steep ravine, through two more farmer’s fields, down a deep ditch, across Highway 21, and then along the gravel road to our house.
It was beyond heavy. Attaching chains we had brought with us to the tree, Nicholas and I slung them over our shoulders. And like two brotherly beasts of burden, we hauled with all our might. When we finally arrived home our backs, hands, and feet were aching. Mom and the rest of the family were away shopping, leaving Nicholas and I with the task of setting up the tree.
Before we brought the tree inside however, we had to address the problem of the one side of it being completely covered in mud from dragging it up the ravine and across the plowed fields. Using our collective genius, we filled buckets of water and doused the tree until most of the mud was removed. After a quick lunch to regain our strength we bullied the massive tree into the house and into the living room using brute force.
We had to cut a bit more off the top so it could stand up and most of the furniture needed to be pushed to the very edges of the room to make space. As we grunted and groaned, attempting to maneuver the colossus tree, something… unexpected happened.
While we had been munching away on our hard-earned lunches, the water we doused the tree with had frozen. Being warmer indoors than it was outside the ice began to melt. Before long it was pouring rain onto our carpeted living room floor. We did our best to blanket the floor with towels and garbage bags but in the end we might just as well have taken a fire hose to the place.
When mom returned from shopping she was in for quite a sight. Her soaked living room was now dominated by a huge, square, dripping wet Christmas tree. She could only stare, dumbfounded, at the monstrosity before her. I don’t know if we succeeded in reducing her holiday stress.
Moral of the story: The holidays don’t need to be as arduous as our pursuit for the perfect tree. We break our backs trying to manufacture the perfect Christmas. We too often forget that the holidays should be about quality time spent with family and friends. Instead we waste our time in crowded shopping malls spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need.
It’s important to remember that the dinners, the trees, the decorations and the gifts are all secondary to the chance to be with the people we love. Keeping it simple is the key to a relaxing and more meaningful holiday season. If that means not having the “perfect” tree, like the one Nicholas and I struggled so hard to get, then so be it.
Merry Christmas everybody! Here’s to a simple, slow and meaningful holiday season. And if you’re intested in knowing what our giant tree looked like, here’s a photo:
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This story was adapted from my book Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments ($9.99). Check it out to read the full-length version as well as more than 50 other stories.