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The Great Christmas Tree Ordeal of 2004


Thirteen years ago, we were young newlyweds living on love, so excited to be starting our life together and creating our own holiday memories and traditions along the way.

As college students, we were country folk living in the city for the first time, and in our hometown (where we live once again now), most people who want a real Christmas tree go out to the Christmas tree farm and chop one down themselves. They tie it to the top of their car or put it in the back of their pick up and drive it home. This was what we both remembered doing growing up, and we were out of our element in our new, big-city life.

It became clear pretty quickly that there was no tree farm near our apartment, and even if there had been, we had no rope to tie the tree to the top of our little car and no money to buy a rope. We barely had enough money to buy a tree. There was a tree lot a couple of blocks away from our apartment, and one afternoon in December, we walked the short distance to pick out our first little Christmas tree.

Even at that time we were living in a small space. I'm not sure if our studio apartment was actually smaller than our house is or not, but it sure felt like it. With limited room and even more limited funds and the requirement that we had to be able to carry whatever we bought home, we set out to buy the smallest tree we could find on that little corner tree lot.

We knew when we saw the tree that we had found the one. It was the tiniest little evergreen they had, standing barely three feet tall. It was a little sparse on one side, but we figured we could face that spot toward the wall. The salesman quoted us $5 a foot, so we handed over our precious $15 and proudly carried that little tree home. (And by we, I mean Chris. Let's be honest here.)

My mom had given us an extra tree stand, and somehow we got our hands on a string of colorful lights. One by one, we pulled out the Christmas ornaments my parents had given me in my Christmas stocking each year of my life, and we carefully arranged them on our little Charlie Brown tree. There were too many ornaments to fit them all, so we left some in the box.

I remember that tree fondly. We were so proud of it. It marked such a special chapter in our lives as our first Christmas together as a married couple in our very own tiny apartment. I'm sure I have printed photos of that little tree somewhere, buried in the bottom of a box of keepsakes stored who-knows-where at my parents' house.

I imagined that first trek to pick out our very own Christmas tree as the first of many repeated excursions to find the perfect little evergreen to decorate our home in the years to come. I looked forward to taking our own children to chop down future trees someday. This was to be the start of a wonderful Christmas tradition.

That's not the way it happened, though. Oh, no. Why not? Because we were young, clueless country folks with very little life experience to draw from, and that's not the end of this Christmas tree story.

As the holiday season progressed, that beautiful little tree proceeded to get drier and drier. We tried cutting down the base of the trunk to let it soak up the water more freely, but with only a pocket knife to work with, the effort was comical. I can still picture Chris lying on the floor, hacking away at that little stump. It didn't seem to make any difference in the end, and we eventually stopped plugging in the string of lights because we were a little bit afraid it would catch fire. (It never did. Thank God.)

We went back home for Christmas, and when we returned to our apartment a few days later, our little tree was drier than ever. We knew it was time to let it go, but we had no idea what we were supposed to do with it. When you live in the country, you just chuck your tree in the woods after the holiday is over, but that was clearly not an option here. December turned to January while the tree slowly started to turn brown, and we still weren't sure what to do.

Let me just pause here to say that if I could talk to my nineteen-year-old self today, I would put my arm around her shoulder and say, "Honey. For goodness sake! Ask someone what in the world you do with a used Christmas tree in the middle of the city! Somebody knows!"

But we didn't ask. Nope.

I like to call what follows "The Great Christmas Tree Ordeal of 2004." Or 2005, I guess, because it was January at this point.

Our brilliant solution to our problem was to borrow a hacksaw and cut that tree to bits. In the middle of our tiny living room.

Just imagine that for a moment.

There were pine needles everywhere. EVERYWHERE! Brown and green pine needles in the carpet and on the linoleum and in our shoes and in our hair, too, I'm sure. It was like a Christmas tree murder scene. Our beloved tree, mutilated and spread all over the floor of our little apartment.

We stuffed everything we could into a black garbage bag and surreptitiously tossed it in the dumpster. I can only imagine what the neighbors thought we were doing. We cleaned up pine needles for weeks. (My mom even helped.)

That was the first and last time that we picked out a real tree for our tiny home at Christmas.

In the years that followed, we happily erected a similarly small artificial tree that we didn't have to water or dispose of when the holiday ended. Of course this meant storing a not-small box in our small home year round. While we lived in our apartment, we stored that fake tree in its box under our couch once Christmas was over, and when we moved, we kept it at my parents' house for a long time. It was in the dining room for a while until we relocated it upstairs to the loft storage area a few months ago. At some point we replaced it with a new one when the attached lights stopped working.

As the years went by, we struggled to find our family traditions. We are Christmas-lovers through and through, but our dreams about sharing that joy with a growing family crumbled around us as we endured one Christmas after another with no little ones with whom to create new memories. Still, we always set up that little artificial tree, warming our apartment and later our tiny house with the soft glow of Christmas lights year after year.

It took us a while, but in 2011, with hearts broken on the heels of years of infertility and one pregnancy loss after another, we settled unintentionally into what became one of our favorite holiday traditions. Two years later, we shared that tradition with the light of our lives, our own little Sunshine, for the very first time, and we've continued that tradition every year since. Come back soon and I'll tell you about it. (Hint: No Christmas tree has met such a horrific end by our hands since 2004.)

There is so much that I love about the holidays and family traditions and the memories we make along the way. I still look back fondly on that pathetic little Christmas tree that we loved so much, even though we destroyed it in the end. We established far more memories than traditions that year, and I'm happy to let The Great Christmas Tree Ordeal of 2004 be a thing of the past!

I still wonder where city dwellers dispose of their Christmas trees once the holiday is over, though, because I'm pretty sure they don't hack them to bits in their living rooms. It's far too messy. Trust me on that one.

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