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Rite of passage: The most beautiful ugly Christmas tree

It has become a tradition in the Moore family to put up our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. For reasons unbeknownst to me, this duty has fallen my way.

It always starts with a trek out to the backyard shed. Of course, all the Christmas stuff is stacked behind the lawn mower, the seed spreader, rakes, shovels, soccer goals and anything we haven’t used in a year. So I spend the first 30 minutes hauling stuff out just so I can reach the Christmas decorations. Now our backyard looks like we’re having either a garage or a going-out-of-business sale.

Finally, I reach the towering stacks of dust-covered bins. There is enough dust on these tubs that if God wanted to recreate Adam and Eve, he would have enough and some left over.

I haul out the bins one by one, only to be told we are not going to use some of them this year. I put the rejects back to gather more dust. Then I haul out the plastic real-life imitation Christmas tree and drag it into the house, trying to recall how to assemble it.

You might think I would remember from year to year, but the season always begins with me scratching my head and then, after much trial and error, I manage to get it assembled. I used to try to follow the instructions, which consisted of a series of pictures that would have been easier to follow if drawn by my three-year-old grandson. I found a better use for them as kindling for a fire in our fireplace.

Next, the lights come out. No matter how careful I am or how much time I spend trying to put them away carefully, somehow, during the 11 months they’re out in the shed, they re-tangle themselves. So I find myself sorting out the lights, hoping I don’t break more than four of the 10 Commandments in the process. Finally, the tree is up in all its glory once again.

One of the first things I hang on our tree is a tiny stocking no more than two inches high. “Merry Christmas” is written on the now-yellowed and red stripes. This was the very first stocking I got as a child, and I was only three-and-a-half months old when my mother placed it on the Christmas tree in our little country home. That little stocking, one of the few things left from my childhood, has now hung on the Moore’s Christmas tree for 65 years.

I pull out another ornament. This one is a piece of melted plastic, once part of a “Shrinky Dink” art project. One of my sons cut out a plastic Christmas tree, colored it and put it in the oven to shrink it. I don’t know whether it was in the oven too long or not, but you can hardly tell it was once a Christmas tree. It looks more like the burning bush. But my son made it, and it has hung on the tree every year since.

I pull out another ornament. This one is a Sunday school project, a clothespin made into a reindeer. I still haven’t figured out how the teacher merged the birth of Christ and reindeer into a Sunday School lesson, but my son was proud of his creation, and up on the tree it goes every year.

I spend the next hour hanging ornaments that mean something only to my wife, my two sons and me. They are not decorations in the traditional sense but memories of life and love.

And this year, I had help. Three-year-old Titus the Honorable wanted to help me decorate the tree, so I asked him to point out where each ornament should go. Since he’s on the short side, most of them were hung below the three-foot mark. After they all went up, we plugged in the lights and stood in awe.

Ours is the most beautiful ugly Christmas tree you’ve ever seen. It will never be featured in a magazine or a Macy’s storefront window, but it is the perfect tree for a family that has gathered memories across the years.

In fact, our tree is a lot like the birth of Christ. It didn’t happen in a clean, sterile hospital but in a place where animals were kept. I have been to the site in Bethlehem where they say Jesus was born, now covered in gold, silver and marble. I wish they hadn’t made it so lavish. After all, in the ugliest of stables came the most beautiful sight: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Walker Moore

Author: Walker Moore

View more articles by Walker Moore.

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