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Our Christmas Tree Is A Scraggly Fire Hazard, And We Love It


2020 hasn’t offered much to celebrate, to put it mildly. Sure, we’ve all found our escapes, things that offer respite from Zoom meetings, for those of us fortunate enough to be able to transition to life through Zoom. People slowed down, spent more time together, cooked more. But sources of joy have been a bit farther between this year.

This is particularly true as we head into a holiday season in which we’re not supposed to celebrate with friends, unless we’re governors. We’re supposed to stay isolated, apart. We can shop online. We can order take-and-bake meals from restaurants. One normal thing we can do, at least in theory, is decorate a Christmas tree.

Except that all the being at home we’ve been doing meant a tree shortage this year, especially for those of us who buy and decorate trees on a more normal schedule. This is super especially true for those of us who moved into a new house this year, closing on December 4 and spending that weekend moving only to get snowed out the following weekend.

Thus, I found myself on a mission on the morning of December 16. I dropped the kids off at school (we’re fortunate enough to have in-person — thanks, school choice!) and began my quest.

I started at Walmart. They had trees, but they were small and bedraggled. I tried another Walmart. That location had nothing. I tried a local garden center and there it was, a real beauty, shining at me from afar. I wouldn’t even have to dig it up with my own hands.

It had a “sold” tag on it.

Sam’s Club had wreaths and nothing else. Another local nursery also had only wreaths. The shopping center with “tree” in the title sadly had nothing to do with tree sales. I looked at a nice full pine of some sort outside a bank and considered stealing it, but that would have required me to dig it up with my own hands.

Not wanting to spend the season in jail, I began contemplating the bedraggled numbers I’d seen at the first Walmart I’d visited and started heading back in that direction. Before arriving, though, I made a fateful decision and stopped at Lowe’s.

And there it was, a real beauty—if your idea of a real beauty is a scraggly, dry fire hazard. It does not have a lot of sap. It is not full. It is, however, very, very tall, which was apparently my only requirement this year.

See, one of the Cromwell Family Christmas traditions is me getting a tree that is far too large for the space. It usually involves having to cut part of the top and part of the trunk off to even stand it upright. In our new home, we have the space for my ridiculous trees. Yet I was thwarted by the aforementioned shortage.

So I bought the tallest Charlie Brown tree ever. It is so dry and light that I was able to easily get it on top of the car by myself, even though it’s about 12 feet tall. Somehow a majority of the remaining needles survived the drive home, where I was easily able to get it into the house and into the stand by myself. This part of the journey is where all the needles that had valiantly held tight during the drive gave up the fight and hit the floor.

At this point I realized I needed a new ladder, so back to Lowe’s I went. Then I realized our hedging shears were also broken, so back out again. With that trip completed and the top of the tree snipped of errant branches, it was time to get the lights on.

Normally, I go for fat, old-school bulbs. The modern iterations don’t get hot like they did back in the day, but they do emit a little heat. The bigger consideration was that they’re heavy, so I went with the smaller bulbs, of which I was short a few strands. I considered going out again, but decided to just roll with it. It still is 2020, after all.

From there, the family decorated. This was not an exuberant decoration. All fragile ornaments were left put away as the branches were already overloaded with the weight of the lights and couldn’t really handle much more. Ornaments dropped to the floor while we were still decorating. Yet we persisted and, with a little effort, got the large piece of kindling masquerading as a Christmas tree decorated.

Much like many humans, it’s much more attractive in the dark, although my attempts at spreading the too-few strands of lights becomes more obvious in those circumstances. A neighbor told me it looks like our tree has mange. He was joking, but he wasn’t wrong.

Yet we love it. Much like Charlie Brown and his own scraggly number, this tree needed me. No one was going to walk into that area of Lowe’s, look across the selection, and think, “There it is.” We took it and gave it a temporary home. We made it as beautiful as possible, especially given its lack of branches and insufficient load-bearing capabilities.

This year, we often have to get creative about what brings us joy. We may be sick of Zooms, we may miss large gatherings, but we’ve got one another, we’ve got a home, and we’ve got a tree. More important, we’ve got a fire pit.

So, while this year’s Cromwell Family Tree may be dry, scraggly, under-lighted, and not that impressive in its current form, it is going to be something to behold when it goes up in flames. That may not be what Christmas is all about, but it is still 2020, after all.