Why traditions for Christmas do not need to be perfect
For years, my parents dreamed of having the perfect Christmas tree. Searching through magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens, Victoria, and Good Housekeeping, they would get ideas about how each tree could eventually look. Children are only somewhat inhibited these designs. After all, like most children, my sisters and I never really cared what a Christmas tree looked like; we were simply thrilled that there was a tree with lights and ornaments on it (and presents under it) standing in our living room. No, we did not change anything about my parents’ holiday traditions … not until they purchased a particular book for us: “Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect,” by Richard H. Schneider.
My sisters and I heard the story once and suddenly, a holiday tradition was changed forever. Schneider’s story is about a perfect tree, Small Pine, in a royal forest. He is expected to be chosen for the queen’s Christmas festival in the palace, but a winter storm changes that. He offers shelter and food for several woodland creatures, having his perfection marred with each sacrifice he makes. Amidst a forest of trees waiting to be picked, he learns that there are things more important that one’s appearance. At the end of the story, the queen chooses him because she sees his selflessness and realizes that he shows what Christmas is really about – doing whatever one can to make the lives of others better, even if the gesture seems small in the larger scheme of things.
After reading this touching story, our family (actually, my sisters and I) had a new mission: finding those trees that are considered imperfect. Our annual trip to McBurney’s tree farm was no longer a simple, routine outing. Instead of being able to walk up to any tree and choose it for its perfection, my sisters and I would wander through the entire tree farm, desperately searching for one of the few trees that looked as if it would need a special home. The trees that caught our interest were either too short, too wide, too tall or, most commonly, had too many gaps for normal standards. The one with the most gaps would almost always be our choice for the family Christmas tree, no matter how much my parents sighed and asked, “Are you sure you want this one?” Without fail, every year my parents bought us the “less than perfect” tree for our celebrations. We learned to overlook any flaws and to view the imperfections with respect, even fondness.
One thing led to another, and soon we were also collecting “beauty challenged” ornaments. It started innocently enough, with our family finding a three-legged sheep ornament on a shopping trip. After one of my sisters commented on how it needed a home, like our imperfect tree, no one could bear to leave it behind. The sheep quickly became one of our favorite ornaments and started yet another holiday tradition. Every year now, our family somehow manages to find at least one ornament that desperately needs a good home (actually, it seems that the ornaments find us). We have a toy plane without a propeller, dolls and angels with repaired feet or hands, and other ornaments that were passed over by others because they weren’t perfect.
One might get the idea that our Christmas tree looks sad or pathetic; nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve come to the understanding that while pictures of our tree will never grace the pages of Better Homes and Gardens or Victoria, there’s no way to explain the feelings of love and willingness to accept that which has flaws, whether it be a tree, an ornament, or anything else.
Our culture bombards us with the message that everything should be perfect and beautiful. We often compare what we have to pictures in magazines or on television. While I enjoy seeing these pictures and getting ideas from them, I have learned that every little tree is truly perfect. I actually enjoy having a Christmas tree that may have a large gap in its branches. That gap which one person thinks is ugly could be the most beautiful part of the whole tree when it holds an ornament that requires a little extra space.
My parents had no idea how much that simple holiday book would change our holiday season. The message about being able to overlook flaws and see an inner beauty is not just about Christmas trees. It’s also about three legged sheep who take their place among our other “perfect” ornaments. It’s about realizing what is truly important in life and appreciating what we already have. “For, as many of us,” Schneider’s book says, “the trees have learned that living for the sake of others makes us most beautiful in the eyes of God.”
Happy holidays, everyone!
Meredith Blake is a Grass Valley resident and a junior at Nevada Union High School. She writes a monthly column. Write her in care of the Youth Page, The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, CA 95945.
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Local IRONMAN athlete and fitness coach Tiana Rockwell first fell in love with triathlons after participating in the Barbara Schmidt Millar Women’s Celebration of Life Triathlon in 2009.