Giant Christmas Trees of My Childhood

1 Samuel 16:7

We had big Christmas trees growing up. I mean, not Rockefeller Center big, but still pretty darn big to be inside a house. I think it all started with my grandfather on my dad's side. Their house had these huge vaulted ceilings; I think up to 18 feet. My grandfather, who was in the carnival business and therefore knew a thing or two about putting on a spectacle, aimed to fill as much of that space as possible come Christmastime. My dad says that one year the tree was so wide that you could barely get around it. A wall of evergreen split the living room in half.

The year that I started third grade, we moved into that house. Dad saw fit to carry on his father's tradition and thus sought out 14 to 16 foot trees to put up in the middle of the living room. Trouble is one does not simply waltz up to the Christmas tree lot down the street and purchase a tree of that size.

I still remember the day in which I understood how difficult it was to find the perfect giant tree. Like many kids, I loved Christmas and so the day we went to look for a tree always filled me with giddy excitement. We left the house in the morning. In my mind, this meant we'd have a tree by lunch and we'd be decorating through the afternoon and evening. This was not the case.

For some reason, Dad was not finding the ideal tree and we bounced all over Upstate South Carolina going from tree lot to tree lot. It's entirely possible we didn't cover that large of a geographical area, but if you had told me that day we had traveled to Missouri, I would have believed you. Ultimately, we found our tree well after dark at a lot that was less than ten minutes from our house.

Eventually, we stopped putting the Christmas tree in the dead center of the living room. We had to rearrange the furniture, finding the tree was difficult, and I still don't know how the heck we actually put those 16 foot suckers up. We moved down to getting 12 foot trees (still pretty big!) and putting it in the corner of the room. And then over the years, my parents transitioned to a nice-looking, artificial 12 footer. The official story that we tell for that change is that my brother Taylor and I were nearly killed by a tree as we tried to put it up. In reality, it wouldn't have killed us; it would have just been a serious injury albeit a serious injury that freshly smelled like the North Carolina mountains.

The ceilings in my house are significantly lower. Our tree this year is maybe an inch or two taller than me. Though I reminisce fondly about the giant trees of my childhood, I love this tree. And I love the artificial tree at my parents' house. I think what makes a tree loom large in one's mind is less its size and more the personal connection. Our tree is in our home with decorations from our past. I go into Mom and Dad's living room and I see ornaments that I put on trees for years on end; some that my siblings and I made as small children.

(As a sidenote: this completely corresponds with what Charlie Brown said about the scrawny, little tree in "A Charlie Brown Christmas." All it needs is a little love. And, yes, there are still more callbacks to that special coming down the pike.)

As I was writing this reflection, the thought occurred to me, "Well, this nice and all, but it doesn't exactly seem devotional, does it?" Then a Bible verse came to mind and it made me laugh a little. When Samuel is looking for the king to succeed Saul, he's looking for a mighty man; a giant tree, if you will. Yet God says, " Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature...for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

Whether it be your tree or your life, outward appearances are not the entire story. The heart matters a great deal more. That's a bit of a shoehorned-in devotional thought, but I think it still works.

Help Me

Island of Misfit Toys