What could possibly go wrong when hunting the rare North American Christmas Tree with your intrepid family?

Every year comes our annual Christmas tree hunting/stalking/butchering expedition to the North Pole. Because after all, it just isn’t Christmas until

  • near death experiences have been lived
  • tempers have flared
  • marriage vows have been stretched and re-thought
  • small children have cried
  • large adults have cried
  • and my Charlie Brown tree is safely kerplunked in my living room.

For those of you who enjoy killing the spirit of Christmas and making Baby Jesus cry by purchasing a plastic tree, I will pray for you. But oh sugar plum fairy, you are missing out!

Only a few things can possibly go wrong and if you are prepared to follow my handy-dandy guidelines, than I can almost promise you you will have sure success and will be drinking your eggnog in no time.

If you don’t drink eggnog you can substitute tea.

Also, if you don’t drink spirits in your eggnog or tea, I would encourage you to start. The holidays are not a good time to test your sobriety.

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A Christmas Tradition

Chopping down our own tree is a family tradition that began, I suppose, when I was but a wee babe, tucked in my Papa’s flannel jacket while Mama sprinted ahead “just around that one last corner.”

The menfolk in my family tend not to enjoy this particular tradition for some reason (something to do with missing football and lugging back a tree the size of Mt Kilimanjaro) and they will more than likely morph into the dad from A Christmas Story when he looses his cool over the furnace and weaves a tapestry of profanity that still hangs over Lake Michigan to this day.

But tradition is tradition is tradition and if they don’t want gravy in their stocking to go with their coal, the menfolk will oblige the womenfolk (and the childrenfolk).

Location, Location, Location

Having lived both in Wyoming and Michigan, places where it gets rather cold and snowy to say the least, we were pleasantly surprised to trek through the dirt and mud when we moved to southern Oregon.

No snowbanks up to our armpits?

We’re used to losing Anna, who is vertically challenged, and only seeing the tips of her pigtails sticking out of the snow.  We’ve lost dogs altogether and possibly one grandpa.

One year we nearly slid to our deaths on the ice and snow covered highway on our way to Mount Crumpit. Okay, not really. But it was hilarious when my husband pulled over and rolled down his window to talk to our fellow tree hunting friends who were in their car behind us, and they kept driving right by as we attempted to flag them down. “Hey! Stop driving!” my exasperated spouse shouted. “We’re not driving!” they yelled frantically, as they hung out the window. “We’re sliding! Goodbye forever!”

We never saw them again, but recall them fondly each year at this time.


I can’t speak for anyone else, but I nearly get lost each and every year. There is a fine, thin line in the forest, between I-know-where-I-am-and- I-am-fairly-certain-that-I-can-retrace-my-steps, and the much less comforting I-suddenly-hear-nothing-but-the-wind-in-the-trees, and if-I-go-one-more-step-I-will-officially-and-utterly-be-lost-and-on-the-five-o’clock-news.

And I don’t like being on camera. I freeze. I don’t even like speaking when there are more than three people around. Even if all I have to say is my name and where I live, I panic. Those are easy questions. I should know the answers without getting all clammy. I really don’t want to be interviewed about being dumb enough to get lost in the woods while searching for a Christmas tree. This motivates me to pay attention to where I am at all times.


Afterwards that same year we learned that there apparently is a small RedBull stand manned by Christmas elves in the forest.

This is the only explanation for our two feminine youngsters who had absolutely NO energy for tree hunting and whined approximately, oh I don’t know, THE WHOLE TIME, and yet were bouncing off the seats of the minivan like jumping beans the whole drive home while their little brother was trying to nap.

Actually, I’ll give it up for wee little Anna – she came wandering around the mountain side right as I was navigating that fine, thin line I was telling you about and quite possibly saved me from certain starvation, exposure, and being eaten by wild bears.

Together we sawed down our tree and kept each other from back flipping and somersaulting and triple axel-ing down the hillsides. The timing was excellent because nothing makes you feel the pains of hunger and whets your appetite like being lost.

Suddenly, your small daughter looks less like a pigtailed whippersnapper and more like a giant roast turkey, a situation that can only be confirmed by watching too many episodes of Loony Tunes. Your eyes may glaze over and you may imagine your faithful spaniel next to you as a side dish, honey glazed carrots perhaps, or a steamed plum pudding, but don’t give in to cannibalism! Remember the sandwiches and hot cocoa you left in the truck at the bottom of the mountain.

Wait…. You didn’t leave the sandwiches and hot cocoa on your kitchen counter, did you? That’s alright, you aren’t going to remember where you parked the truck anyway.


Once you do find your vehicle, several days later, you have only to find your family members who are strewn about the forest, frozen in mid-task, like the victims of the White Witch in Narnia. This is no small task, and it’s only slight less difficult than remembering where you left your sawed up Christmas tree when it got too heavy for you to drag alone.

Alone, because your daughter is dragging her moon boots through the snow, whimpering about her fate, and quite possibly the weather, her mittens, her feet, religion, and politics.

Expect your husband to be quite snarly and cross by this time unless the man has the patience of a saint. He will mumble incoherently about plastic trees or even real pine trees being sold in the Albertson’s parking lot, spittle gathering at the corners of his cracked lips, as he stares at you with unblinking, crazy eyes. Wipe his fevered brow and gently remind him of his marriage vows.


Once home again, the frostbitten toes thawed and back to a healthy pink, the sandwiches snarfed down eagerly, you can begin the decorating process. A few holiday selections on the radio, some cookies, one snoring spouse, several crabby kids, and three dozen strings of tangled and broken lights later, you can feel the spirit of Christmas starting to wane.

Just a little. Only a bit. It’s nothing some Bing Crosby and Cardboardeaux can’t fix.

Boxed wine? Yes please.
That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.

One year, everything went right. We got our tree in a speedy fashion, no one got lost, no one threatened divorce, we were home in time for the football game. Lulled into a false sense of security,  the problems didn’t rear their ugly heads until we got home.

Then we came to understand a nugget of truth:

Williams’ Law:
Some trees look smaller when they’re on a mountainside then they do when you try to fit them in the living room.

Also, we had to hope forest service officials wouldn’t dust the stump we left behind for fingerprints because we may have lopped off more than the designated amount. Whatever. Let’s not split hairs.

We’ll just say there was some pruning going on.


Eventually, we got the tree whittled down to Redwood size and set up. The lights went on! The gold beads went on! All the ornaments (all 2134897.5497) of them went on!

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care! I in my kerchief and Dad in his cap had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

Then it happened.

I walked by our Christmas tree. We’ll never know if my pajama hem brushed the branches or if I breathed too heavily or if a cold north wind was blowing through a window, but suddenly –

* crrrrrrreeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaak *

I found myself being leaned upon like Lucy by Joe Junior in While You Were Sleeping.

“Are you sure? ‘Cause it looks like he’s…. leaning.”

The tree fell into my arms.

Or to be more precise, my hair.

Luckily, I broke its fall with my 5’3″ body. I’m sacrificial like that. Also, I have a kid who faints so I’m accustomed to holding out my arms at a moment’s notice and catching things.

I yelled for my handsome prince and he came running. Well, he didn’t run precisely, but that’s because its hard to sprint and laugh at the same time.

We pushed the tree back up. We tried nailing fishing line to the wall – an old trick used by cave men and their Christmas trees – but we only had the world’s smallest and most ineffective nails and the line slipped right off. Plus, the weight of our tree snapped the line anyway.

Then we realized our tree stand is busted. This explained some things. Like why the tree tried to kill me. So in order to go to the store and buy a replacement stand we had to do something so dreadful I don’t even want to talk about it here…

We had to undecorate the tree the same day we decorated it.

Then we went and bought a new stand. We splurged for the $19.97 one and not the crummy, deadly $7.97 one.

Then we came home and started over. Two years later, we had our Christmas tree.

So if and when these things happen to you, know that I am under the same bright star, Fievel, having the same experiences.

And even if your strings of lights don’t light either, you can bask in the warm glow that comes from knowing you, yes, you know how to do Christmas right.

God bless us mommies.

God bless us, everyone.


A Wonderful Family Tradition