It was my suggestion. Our pre-lit, artificial tree has served us well for seven out of eight years in the little blue house (not bad for a last minute purchase some years ago to replace a real tree scenario gone awry), but I was watching social media feeds stack up with family outings to tree farms everywhere, and I wanted the experience of a fresh tree, too. I wanted the family memory of wandering about in search of the “perfect” fir. I wanted the photograph. Most of all, I wanted Christmas to arrive in our house so that we could begin the celebration, however makeshift, in this less organized, less Pinterest-y holiday season.
I wanted to get out of the house. And I did not want to go through the process of dragging our beloved fake tree out of the attic one more time. So I suggested the alternative:
“Can we get a real tree this year?”
What it turns out I meant was, “Can we get our motley crew all bundled up and head out in the first real snow of the season? And can I nurse and change the baby six times first, and can everyone need to go to the bathroom and change clothes and switch socks and find boots? And can we leave with an hour to spare before dark, so that when we get home everyone is famished and entirely over my big idea?”
Yes, that’s what I didn’t realize I actually meant, but I’d set my heart on something and we were going to see it through.
It was snowing beautifully when we arrived at the farm late Sunday afternoon, and the kids (having worked through their own reservations about chopping down a Christmas tree) were excited. I dressed and wrapped the babe somewhat excessively, and off we went, saw and sled in tow. I don’t know what kind of grace they grow out at that tree farm but I could’ve stayed a lot longer. Something magical happened in the hour we spent traipsing around together: hunting for and cutting down our tree turned out to be simple and lovely. The whole experience was like a little pre-Christmas gift to my spirit.
We let the tree drop in the garage overnight, and Monday evening, Jason brought our fine new plant into the house and set it up in the living room for us to decorate. It smelled just right. I was still feeling the magic. I started to hang the lights to the tune of Christmas music in the background, the kids unwrapping ornaments hastily and with delight.
I ran out of lights two thirds of the way up the tree, so we let the kids hang ornaments where they could reach them while I nursed the baby on the couch. The oldest two went to bed shortly after, and as I sat with our littlest by the light of the partly lit, imperfect tree, the Christmas spirit I had summoned on that beautiful tree farm the day before all but disappeared.
How quickly my unmet expectations can drain my joy.
I started to regret my suggestion that we venture out in search of Christmas by way of a single experience and an authentic tree. I hung myself up in the haphazard placement of ornaments, the missing lights, the uncooperative branches. I pined for the predictability of a pre-lit version–one that felt closer to my Pinterest-perfect vision and afforded me control and manufactured peace. Irrational, surely, but it all made me want to cry.
I think that all too often, when the matters of our hearts feel upside down, we turn our eyes to things that don’t really matter. My heart has been on the topsy-turvy side lately, and I don’t let on nearly as much as I try to just keep on moving. A Christmas tree can’t fix that though–not even a “perfect” one.
I was drawn to the idea of a new, real Christmas tree for good reason this year, I just didn’t see it at first. The artificial tree in the attic has lost its appeal for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I’m quite tired of fake and manufactured on all accounts.
Our new tree represents so much of what our life is all about these days–making the most of what’s entirely imperfect and striving to find the beauty in it anyway.
I’ve since added lights to the rest of the tree; the ornaments for this year all hang in their respective places, lending character and good memories of past Christmases and the people and places we love. As I set a few of my favorites on branches after everyone else had gone to bed, I hung pieces of my heart there, too, realizing afresh that messy and imperfect is really what Christmas is all about.
I’m still working on laying down earthly ideals, clearly. Scrolling through IG at all hours while nursing a baby can make me feel inadequate at best if I’m not careful. Life isn’t a perfect scripted, perfectly arranged square photograph, filtered and shimmering in magic Pinterest dust. It just isn’t.
More realistically, it’s hands full with tiny people who need us and our best attempts at celebrating what really matters while shepherding little hearts and minds amidst the mess. Our mess. Our beautiful mess. The one we asked for, prayed for, begged for to create this life that’s colorful and adventuresome and relatively amazing. Good thing I have a seven foot tall reminder of this truth–set right in the middle of the living room whenever I need it, this whole season through.