Getting a Christmas Tree

Here in the United States almost everyone knows the storyline of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The animated television special first aired in 1965 and has been shown every Christmas since. There are several themes to the special. Charlie Brown is a bit ambivalent about Christmas. Lucy advises him to direct the annual Christmas pageant. Everyone makes fun of the short spindly tree that he brings until the true meaning of Christmas works its magic on all of the characters in the story.

I’m not sure that the special actually grasps the totality of the true meaning of Christmas, but it does help people to see through some of the glitter and hype of the season. The cartoon special is genuinely fun to watch with some great animations, including Snoopy playing “crack the whip” with Linus’ blanket.

What has emerged is the designation of a “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.” Whenever there is a tree with a crooked trunk or a lack of needles, or a huge bare spot, we refer to it as a “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.”

We’ve had several Charlie Brown trees over the years. For the first few years of our marriage we didn’t have a Christmas tree of our own. We were students and took a break from our studies to return to our parents’ homes to celebrate. When we moved to North Dakota we started our family tradition of a tree. Because I had grown up near the mountains and our family went up to the mountains to cut our own Christmas tree each year, that was what I expected one should do. The problem is that the corner of North Dakota where we moved isn’t exactly covered in evergreen trees. The solution was a trip of about 50 miles one way to the Slim Buttes in South Dakota, where there are some pretty good stands of Ponderosa Pine. The Slim Buttes are also home to a good bit of gumbo if you catch them at the right time. We didn’t own a four-wheel-drive vehicle, but we had tire chains and that was good enough for the adventure. A couple of years during that time we put together a small group of people and went on a “Gathering of the Greens” expedition to secure Christmas trees for the congregations we served and for the homes of the participants. We’d pack a hearty lunch, fill our thermoses with hot coffee and head out.

The Slim Buttes is a good destination for Charlie Brown Christmas trees. Ponderosa pine are beautiful, long-needled trees, but they don’t have an excess of branches and they tend not to be shaped like a traditional Christmas Tree with a well-rounded, conical set of branches. We learned to set the Christmas tree in a corner so that the best side could be exposed and decorated.

The television special does get that part right. The quality of the celebration isn’t dependent upon the shape of the tree.

The Boise National Forest in Idaho gave us a few more options in terms of tree cutting and we were able to access forested sites a bit closer to our home. Getting the tree was still a major excursion and took a bit of planning. Some of the years that we lived in Boise we purchased a noble fir or a spruce tree from one of the vendors selling trees just for the convenience of being able to obtain the tree in town. It isn’t the same and commercially raised Christmas trees are cut weeks before you take them home, so aren’t as fresh as the ones you cut yourself.

Moving to the Black Hills brought the adventure of going for our Christmas Tree to a new level. We live right next to the national forest. The Black Hills have both Ponderosa Pine and Black Hills Spruce trees in abundance. A tree permit from the forest service allows you to go on a grand adventure and seek just the right tree for your home. In addition, the house we bought in Rapid City has an entryway with the ceiling reaching up to the second story. We had a place for a really big Christmas tree and I went a bit overboard the first year we lived here. The tree was not only so tall that we were standing on the stairs to decorate it, it also was so wide that it pretty much blocked the passage from the living room to the kitchen.

In subsequent years we’ve been happy with a tree that will fit under the 8’ ceiling in our living room. We have had some grand adventures seeking our Christmas tree in the hills, including one December when we went out in below zero temperatures with my mother who was past the age of 80. We ended up cutting a tree that could be seen from the road, something we rarely do, and rushing back to the car because it simply was too cold for my mother to get out and hike. Another year, Susan and I went to get the tree and had the starter in the truck fail 8 miles from the nearest house. We ended up spending the night in the truck before hiking out the next morning and raising the concern of our daughter and several members of our congregation.

We have never been really big on lots of Christmas decorating. We get our our nativity sets and we decorate our tree with lights and our favorite ornaments, collected over years of being married, but we don’t go in for big outdoor displays. We like the lights put up by our neighbors, but Christmas is a busy time for us and we’ve tended to make our family celebrations a bit more low key and private. So when our children grew up and began to spend Christmas away from our home, we downsized even a bit more. Some years we’d get a 6’ tree,

Yesterday was a delightful day for us. We went out and got our Charlie Brown tree. We didn’t go as far from home as some years, and selected a small Ponderosa pine that was growing too close to its neighbors to become a healthy full-sized tree. But the walk in the woods was just right to renew our spirits and remind us of what a wonderful place we live. We’ll decorate our tree and its fresh smell and long needles will keep that memory fresh all season long.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!