December comes fast in rural Ontario. One morning you realize you can see your breath on the way to your car and by afternoon it is buried under six inches of snow. Our disappointment at this sudden change is tempered by the knowledge that it means Christmas is just around the corner.
If you are lucky enough to have some forest on your property you are never at a loss for a pine or spruce to bring inside to add to the festive spirit. Choosing and decorating the Christmas tree can become an event, with people dropping in to give their tips on how to get it just right!
But, of course, it all starts with the perfect tree. And that perfection is measured differently to meet the needs of each family. Over the years we have cut down tall, short, spindly, full and flat on one side. Usually in early November some friend or relative would call to ask, “Have you got any Christmas trees?” My husband, Keith, would invite them along to choose one to cut down themselves as the thinning out allows others room to grow.
Our best friends for the past thirty years have been the Martens family from Guelph. In the mid 1990’s they spent five years working in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has a dry season (read very dirty dusty) and a wet season (read torrential daily downpours with flooding), which means there is no snow, no white Christmas and no Christmas trees. They did not miss the snow so much, but with four young children, the Christmas tree was so missed they bought this frond looking three foot potted tree, nursed it all year and every Christmas put a few light paper decorations on it to resemble the fine specimens they had known in Canada. I saw it when I visited and beleive me, it was pitiful. The two youngest children had no idea that this was not the “real” thing, but the older boys dreamt of the smell of pine needles and told stories of tremendous trees they had known.
Once back in our lovely but cold winter, Ron and Kim called us up with the tree question. They did not want to buy a precut one. They wanted the children to have the full tree experience; the trudging through snow to weigh up this spruce against that pine’s fine features, the watching in wonder as their Dad chopped by hand the chosen one, and the triumphant trip home with their prize.
They arrived at our acerage on a crisp, clear day in mid-December, eager to find their perfect tree. The children tumbled out of the van in their new snowsuits and started running amok, which our dog absolutely loved. After letting them run off steam, we all waded through the two feet of snow along the western property boundary eyeing up first this tree than that one until Ron exclaimed he had found “The One”. It was a boxy shaped beauty, but Keith tried to direct the family to another area. Ron, however, had his heart set and so it was that he pushed his way to the base of a twenty foot bushy spruce where he stood in the snow drift up to his chest (and he is well over six feet tall) wondering how and if he even could swing the axe in that close grouping of trees!
Keith quietly handed over the chainsaw he had brought (just in case it should be needed) and we watched with baited breath and covered ears as the deed was done. Ron did a fine job and he received our cheers with a wave and a request for help to get out of the drift.
The tree seemed much bigger laying in the clearing, and even bigger when it was dragged by everyone up to the house where it was laid out beside the Martens’ van. A further five feet was cut from the base so that it could be strapped on the roof rack. Even then it hung off the back. The top hung over the front windshield and its bushiness slipped over the sides. We worried it might still be too high for the ceiling height of their house, but Kim assured us they would make it fit. After hot chocolate and a visit the children somehow scrunched under the spruce tree overhang into the rear of the van and they were off to the next part of this adventure.
I spoke with Kim on the phone the next day to see how they had made out. She laughed and said we would have to see it to believe it when we came down for our yearly Christmas gathering.
She was right. We would not have believed the finished product without seeing it for ourselves. The tree had indeed had to be trimmed again. Ron had not wanted to sacrifice the abundance of the tree’s branches for a better fit and so had trimmed the top rather than the base!
There in the family room; well in what space was left in the family room; was a massive Christmas tree that appeared to be growing up into the second floor bedrooms. It was decorated with so many and so varied a number of ornaments new and old, handmade and store-bought; that those glorious branches dipped as though under the weight of two feet of snow. The room had the fine aroma of spruce. If you looked hard you could see there were presents under the tree, and the cat peeking out of his wonderful new hiding place. The tree had four strands of lights that had been put on and off three times until just right. There was no top to put their angel so she had a place of honour front and center. The children were thrilled, the parents were beaming. This tree became the measure for every other Christmas tree the Martens ever had. Kim’s father for years referred to it gruffly and with awe in his voice as, “That square tree.” It was their perfect Christmas tree.