Christmas tree beauty goes beyond looks

By  Harry Mcavoy, Catholic Register Special
  • December 12, 2008
{mosimage}As I write, Gayla Peevey sings “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” Soon the McAvoy family will embark on our annual Christmas tree hunt. I am already psyching myself up. 

When our children were small, finding a Christmas tree was simple. Jennifer and I would bundle one, two and then three little ones in snow suits and pack them into a sled. We would pull the sled six or nine metres into a tree farmer’s field, spot a tree more or less in proportion, cut it down and take about a dozen pictures. With smiling faces we would return home, put the tree in the stand, invite family and friends to add a bit of tinsel and a few ornaments, and we would be happy. 

I think my fondness for the Christmas tree hunt began to diminish the year of the Great Crash. Life was full, as was our tiny house. By then we had five children in two-and-a-half bedrooms, and Belle, our very energetic German Shepherd, who slept in the kitchen by the back door. 

The night of the Great Crash Jennifer and our guest had done a marvellous job decorating our nearly seven-foot balsam fir. They had seemingly tapped into an unending supply of beautiful ornaments. Later that evening as family and friends departed, each paid tribute to how we had outdone ourselves.

At about 3 a.m., I awoke to a great swishing sound, followed by glass objects cracking as they hit the floor, and the sound of Belle moving about frantically. With eyes still closed I whispered to Jennifer, “I think Belle just knocked over our Christmas tree.” 

As we stumbled down the stairs we found Belle, still tethered to the backdoor, straining to see the mess of broken ornaments that reached from the living room into the dining room. After we propped up the tree, swept the floor and commiserated about the treasured ornaments that had been lost, we went back to bed. Only minutes later, before we had found sleep, we heard that disheartening swish sound again and the encore of crumbling ornaments. In those wee hours of the morning, I learned that a Christmas tree weighed down with ornaments, lights and candy canes must be either balanced or tied off against a nearby wall. Yes, some people are slow learners.   

If my enthusiasm for this family Christmas tradition has dissipated just a little, it certainly hasn’t for Jennifer. Being a wonderful mother, she still wants all six of our children to join us as we seek our tree. To this end she juggles multiple schedules and endures through the teenage angst. In spite of her best effort, in the past couple of years, the older children have had to work or chosen other priorities.   

A few years ago, one of the children, in an act of adolescent defiance, joined us but stomped through the snow banks of northern York Region wearing running shoes and without hat or gloves. This unnamed child turned blue while asking unrelentingly why we hadn’t cut down the first tree that we had seen. 

Thank goodness for the enthusiasm of the younger children. To their parent’s delight they are still engaged, voicing strong opinions about their favourite tree, who will do the sawing and how we will get the tree back to the van. Once we arrive home they fill the important roles of helping dad place the tree in the stand and then tying it off against the adjoining wall. They are also their mother’s helpers as she retrieves boxes of decorations and lovingly transforms the balsam fir into our family Christmas tree.     

I suppose in many respects this annual family event reflects life in the McAvoy home in 2008. It has become complicated with divergent priorities and views. However, even with many high and lows, we still seemingly share a vision of family and friends, gathered around the Christmas tree, celebrating so much that is good. We will sing “Silent Night,” retell the story of Jesus’ birth, pray for those less fortunate and we will thank God for our faith and the many other blessings He has so generously bestowed upon us. Merry Christmas to each of you, and happy tree hunting.

(McAvoy writes about family matters from the Toronto area.)

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