Our house stood on a lot of land of my Grandfather’s farm in southern Ontario. Much of the Christmas baking was a shared activity. Mom would wake us kids early in the morning and we’d walk across the field to Grandma’s. There we’d spend the day making white and dark fruitcake and Christmas pudding… but that is another story. The activity that I loved most didn’t occur until the middle of December – bringing home the tree.
Early on a Saturday morning, my married aunts and uncles would arrive at Grandma’s. Mom would bundle my brother, sister and I into our winter garb and we would walk to Grandma’s with Dad. This was the only Saturday of the year that Dad didn’t work and we kids were always delighted that he could be home for the special event.
When everyone had arrived, Grandpa would hook the team, Punch and Maude, to the sleigh. He and Dad would climb up on the seat while the rest of us scrambled onto the sleigh. When we were all safely seated, Grandpa would click his tongue, flick the reins, give a soft, “Ha,” and we would be off down the lane, over the frozen creek, up the hill and across the field to the back forty.
This was a wondrous place for a wee girl. A spring bubbled out of the hillside, even in winter. Gigantic pine trees grew upon the hill on the other side of a small, ice-covered brook. The sight of the pines, towering high, their boughs dressed in lacey, white gowns of snow, always left me in awe, especially if there was a deer or two standing beneath them.
When we went down the hill, Grandpa would pull the reins and the team would veer to the right. Here, an evergreen forest grew. There were trees of every size imaginable.
At the edge of the wood, Grandpa would pull back on the reins, call, “Whoa,” and the team would come to a stop. He would tie the reins around the sleigh’s brake and we would all jump down into the soft snow. From here, each family tramped through the drifts in different directions in search of the “perfect tree.”
Grandma and Mom both loved spruce trees. Dad and I liked pine. Though Grandpa always cut a spruce, our family alternated. No matter which year it was, we always loved searching for the tree that would stand in the place of honor in front of our living room window.
Once we had found the “perfect tree,” Dad would crawl underneath its’ branches and saw through the trunk. As the tree fell, we children would dance with delight in anticipation. Then, Dad would hook his gloved hand through the uppermost branches and drag the tree back to the sleigh. Once everyone had their tree, the men would load them; we’d scramble back into the sleigh and head home.
When we arrived, Dad would trim the branches and insert the tree into an old galvanized bucket filled with sand that Mom had covered with green or gold foil. Then Dad would weave strings of lights over and between the branches and leave the rest of the decorating to Mom and us kids. By the time the tree was “dressed” the room was filled with a lovely evergreen fragrance. There were bubble lights and ornaments of every description. When the decorating was finished, Dad would lift one of us up to place the angel on the very top. She watched over our Christmas festivities every year. Mom still has many of those ornaments and that very same angel still looks down from the top of the tree each year.
After I was grown and moved away, the trend of the day was artificial trees. I missed the tradition of cutting and bringing home the tree as well as the lovely fragrance. When my oldest grandson was born, I vowed when he was old enough, I would renew the tradition of “bringing home the tree.”
I now have two grandsons, Brandon and Jordan. Last year, we took the boys and went into the country to buy a tree. We found a beautiful spruce, which is Brandon’s favorite. It was a pre-cut tree but a beauty.
This year, the Christmas tree farm that we usually go to was closed, so we continued down the road to see if we could find another tree farm. Before long, we saw a sign and turned into the long, snowy lane. Two elderly gentlemen were about to unload pre-cut trees from a truck. They suggested we walk through the woods to see if we could find a tree that we liked.
Though we spent about forty minutes tramping through the snow between the trees, we didn’t find “the” tree. So, we headed back to the car feeling a bit disappointed. Then Brandon, who was bound and bent we had to take a tree home “today,” spotted a green spruce. The trunk was straight, the branches full, but it had two tops. We marked the tree and went back to ask one of the men to cut it for us.
When we got back to the sales area, we spotted two “perfect trees.” I asked the boys if we should buy one of these but they shook their heads and protested vehemently. They wanted to cut the tree we had marked.
I looked at my husband and told Brandon to ask the man to cut the tree. While he went about his task, Jordan laid on the ground making snow angels. Brandon watched intently, his eyes sparkling.
When we went to put the tree in the trunk of the car, it wouldn’t fit. My heart sank. How would we get it home?
The elderly gentleman suggested we tie it to the roof. Though I doubted the wisdom of this, I agreed. If the tree fell off, neither my husband nor I would be able to get it back on. But, when the tree was in place, we set off. The tree was so big that the branches partially blocked the back and passenger windows. I prayed the tree would remain secure on the ten-mile trip home.
We arrived home about a half-hour later without incident. The boys danced with excitement as we took the tree off the roof of the car. Though it wasn’t exactly the tree I would have liked, it would have to do. I could cut the second top out of it, place the bare spot next to the wall and …
As I watched the boy’s eyes sparkle, I suddenly realized that the “perfect tree” doesn’t mean a straight trunk, full branches and a single top. The “perfect tree” is the tree that touches your heart and especially the heart of children.
I hope that when the boys are grown, they will remember the tradition of “bringing home the tree,” and share it with their children and grandchildren. It is one of the most treasured moments of Christmas.