By Joe Rector

The other evening, Amy sent me to her car to lug in the new Christmas tree for our home. The one we have now is so large that it takes two tree bags to store, and the darn thing weighs a ton, too much for me to wrestle in and out of the house. Just like for most folks, however, a Christmas tree is an integral part of our holiday.

The best trees came when I was a boy. Mother would decide the time had arrived to put a tree up, and we three boys, along with her for the first few years, traipsed over the fields that our neighbor owned. After searching for a while, we’d spy the perfect one. Dal would saw the thing down and we’d take turns dragging it back to the house. With a great deal of effort, we trimmed the bottom limbs and leveled the trunk into the stand.

The scent from those cedar Christmas trees filled the house. We decorated them as a family and then, when the job was finished, we turned off every other light in the house and plugged in the lights. Something magical happened as if lighting the tree also jumpstarted the Christmas season. The cedar stayed until after New Year’s Day, and then it was stripped and taken to the burn pile in the back yard. For the next year the tree remained in our thoughts as we stepped on burr-like fragments that were trapped in the carpet.

When our children arrived, the family would drive to Topside Road for our Christmas trees. We’d hunt acres of greenery to find one that was full enough, tall enough, and cheap enough for us. A helper would dig around the tree and wrap burlap around the dirt ball. I’d rupture myself loading the thing into the car and then transporting it into the house. Lacey and Dallas decorated the tree with special ornaments they’d made at daycare or school. Just as in my childhood, I made them wait until the tree was decorated before turning on the lights.

After the season, I once again hoisted the tree and headed outside. We planted one tree in the front yard, and it thrived and grew large. However, at some point, its roots began to infringe on the water line. I took a saw and, with a heart full of regret, cut the tree. It was too much like losing a good friend or family member because it always sparked holiday memories.

At some point, we gave in and bought an artificial tree. It seemed easier than always searching for a tree and then worrying about keeping it watered enough to prevent a fire. I thought that such a fake tree would smother Christmas, but to my surprise, our Christmases were every bit as merry and joyful. Yes, I missed the smell of cedar and pine in the house, but we stacked presents under that tree and watched as our excited children tore open boxes from Santa.

Now we spend time in Nashville during Christmas. That means we must also put up a tree in the condo where we stay. It’s one of those small ones from Dollar General Store. Guess what! It works just as well. We put gifts in the floor under the table where the tree sits. The entire family doesn’t seem to mind the pitiful “Charlie Brown” tree.

Yes, we have a new tree at home this year. It’s smaller and more manageable, but it still helps usher in the Christmas season. One year not long ago, I declared that we wouldn’t put up a tree in Knoxville since we would be out of town on Christmas. It was another one of my bone-headed dictates. That year, Christmas never quite managed to work its way into our home, hearts, or lives.

From now on, a tree will be set up in our home during Christmas. We’ll decorate it, even if we only can enjoy it for a couple of days. Just like a nativity scene, a Christmas tree seems to be a focal point of the special season and something around which family and friends can gather. My only hope is that Snoop doesn’t take it upon himself to water this artificial tree while we are at work.