Our Christmas tradition was born out of a refusal to have a fake tree in the house: the same one pulled from storage each year, a trunk of hard synthetic with drilled holes for the perfectly tapered limbs to fit, and reeking with a musty smell of aged plastic. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” (thank you Jerry Seinfeld). We had to have a live tree, which meant finding a cedar tree on the wooded acreage behind our house, cutting it down, and lugging the felled beast home. The adventure always happened the day after Thanksgiving. We rose early anxious to be on the hunt, found our prize, brought it home and stuck the base of the tree in a five gallon bucket of water for it to slurp from during the day, and then that night had a full-on decoration party. We have carried on this tradition for decades now.
In those early days, trees were found on the family farm until they became scarce or too scrawny. Then we met a man who owned property not far from where we lived, and he invited us to come and chop down a tree every year. We’d pile into my brother-in-law’s pickup and drive out to the man’s property, split into groups, tramp through the woods, and pick out the candidates. After careful scrutiny, comparing height, form, and majesty, we made our choice, cut it down, and threw it into the pickup. The girls and I rode in the back with our “kill,” and Kay drove us home.
There were several years when we ran outdoor lights all along the roof-line and dormers of the house. Kay would be on the ground laying out the miles of stringed icicles, and I went up and down a twenty-foot extension ladder fastening them onto the wooden frameworks. We gave the Griswold’s of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” a run for their money. When the girls brought home their friends from college for the Thanksgiving holiday, they would be welcomed with enough lights to be seen from outer space and cause retinal damage when they pulled into the driveway. Once I reached a certain age, I put the “Bah! Humbug!” on climbing up and down that ladder and lugging the twenty-foot, metal monster to and from the shed in freezing temperatures. Ain’t nobody got time for that. From then on the Christmas lights would just have to live in our hearts. I have lived to a ripe old age for taking my stand.
When the girls got serious about the respective “man of their dreams” (good choices both), we upgraded the tradition and found Christmas tree farms. We would stroll through rows of neatly laid out Fraser Fir trees, and had the pleasure of picking the one we wanted, cutting it down, and throwing it in the back of the pickup. By this time, I had put the “Bah! Humbug!” on riding in the back of the truck with the tree. Ain’t nobody got time for that either. Riding home in a nice warm cab with my bride at the wheel was more to my liking.
This variation of our tradition continued until the grand-kids started to show up. About five years ago we were all sitting around the dining room table after a hearty Thanksgiving meal, and decided we needed an infusion of creative energy for this new generation when it came to procuring our Christmas tree. So from our collective geniuses, heavily under the influence of tryptophan, the Christmas Tree Fairies were born.
STOP READING NOW IF YOU STILL BELIEVE IN SANTA CLAUS AND FAIRIES AND ALL THE WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS MAGIC. My disclaimer is on the record. Proceed at your own risk.
The plan was simple: That night we announced to the grand-kids that it just so happened we had gotten word from the Christmas Tree Fairies that they had left us a Christmas tree back on the farm. All we had to do was go find it in the morning. This meant that I was up with the sun the next day before the grand-kids were stirring and went to our local Food Lion where dozens of freshly delivered Fraser Fir trees were lined up on the outside wall of the store; all healthy specimens, and each one neatly cut at its base. Yes, I had put the “Bah! Humbug!” on cutting a tree by then too. So you can see the progression of my “Ain’t nobody got time for that” grumpiness.
I would pick out the tree and drive to the backside of the farm where I would enter the woods unseen by the grand-kids. I would find a concealed spot in the middle of the forest to place the tree and return home. After a big breakfast it was time to go see where the Christmas Tree Fairies had left our tree. We would jump in my brother-in-law’s Side-by-Side/ATV—yes, he’s the man with a vehicle for every occasion—and head back to the farm.
I never made the tree easy to find. We had to tramp through woods, overgrown shrubbery (back in the day, this part of the farm used to grow nursery stock), fallen limbs, brambles, and bogs. And then when we got close to the spot, I said I had gone as far as I was going, so you’d better find the tree. Funny how three grand-kids can get focused when the stakes are high. Once they spied the tree, there was great rejoicing throughout the land. We would drag it back to the Side-by-Side/ATV, climb in, drive home, happy hunts-people all.
Over the years we have even created some Christmas Tree Fairy folklore about the expertise these fairies have in creating and delivering Christmas Trees. But a couple of years ago we thought the magic of the Christmas Tree Fairies would be blown when our eight-year-old nephew, Henry, wanted to tag along with us to find our tree. Henry was just about to hit the Age of Enlightenment. His doubts about all-things Christmas were beginning to get the best of him, yet he wasn’t quite ready to shed his long-held beliefs. He was intrigued by our tales of the Christmas Tree Fairies, and wanted to find out if such stories were true.
When we were riding over to the wooded area of the farm, the ever-observant and precocious Henry asked me why I had not brought my ax or saw so we could cut down the tree. I was stumped. Kay and I looked at each other in fear and trembling wondering if our fairy myth making would come to an abrupt end with Henry’s insightful question. Kay came up with a quick, “let’s just wait and see what happens,” which bought us a little time. We would have to scramble to think up an appropriate answer if Henry’s doubts would become the plague of disbelief infecting the others. Pressure was on.
We went through the same ritual of merrily tramping through the woods in search of our Christmas Tree. Henry spotted it first, and directed everyone’s attention to where it stood. They all ran over to where I had propped it up against a large tree, and Kay and I were preparing our hearts for the reckoning of truth that would be posed by our young nephew. But when I raised it into the air, Henry said, “Look, the fairies even cut it for us.” Well, God bless the child. We hauled it home, I stuck the base into the five-gallon bucket full of water, and we made hot chocolate to celebrate. The magic of the Christmas Tree Fairies survived for another year, and I am happy to report, the lore survived for 2019’s venture as well. However, Henry’s doubts have gotten the best of him. He has bought into the “Ain’t nobody got time for that” philosophy.
A full-circle-full disclosure: It has also been an Arnold tradition to take the same tree given to us by the Christmas Tree Fairies, and on New Year’s Eve, at the stroke of midnight after filling its dried branches with a wheelbarrow full of fireworks, we set it ablaze and watch (at a safe distance, of course), with wonder and delight, the great conflagration of colorful explosions. We deem it a fitting sacrifice of thanks to the Christmas Tree Fairies for their bounty each year.
Cover Art: Designed Fabric by Cecely Barker