LIFE IN OUR MOUNTAIN TOWN: Getting a Christmas tree the old-fashioned way
Our family has had a Christmas tree tradition for many years, but this year, we’ve started what will hopefully become a new tradition.
One year before my husband and I were married, we left our task of getting a Christmas tree to the last minute. This was back in the days when we started thinking about Christmas on Dec. 20.
Several nights before Christmas, we realized that we didn’t have another evening off from work together before the holiday, and it suddenly became imperative that we get a tree that night. It was already dark when we set out into the woods near our house with a flashlight and some kind of ax. After pointing our flashlight at one unacceptable tree after another, we trudged back to our house. We then got into our car and drove into town to the Optimist Christmas tree lot.
That began what has for many years now been our Christmas tree tradition. We drive into town and pick out a great tree at the Optimist lot. It hasn’t been such a bad tradition, considering we always get a nice-looking tree, and we are supporting a good local cause.
But this year, when a new idea for acquiring a Christmas tree was presented to me, I realized that our former tradition was kind of lacking.
Early last month a friend of mine invited my family to join them and several other families on an outing to cut a Christmas tree in the Plumas National Forest. I have seen a few Christmas trees in the home of these dear friends, and without hurting their feelings, I had to acknowledge that their trees are usually very tall, kind of thin, and kind of different looking. By accepting this invitation, I knew that we wouldn’t have a beautiful noble fir to enjoy in our living room this year.
But even before we went on our snowy adventure, I had a feeling that this was an opportunity our family couldn’t pass up.
Once our ten-dollar permit arrived in the mail, we were all set to go. It’s funny how once you have kids you start behaving in more responsible ways. We wouldn’t dare role model for our children the nighttime-tree-cutting-with-a-flashlight pastime of days gone by.
On the designated weekend morning, we all met in the Safeway parking lot and then headed north on Highway 89 with our permits, maps, and carloads of kids. We pulled off the road onto a snow-covered dirt road, crossed a bridge and parked, tailgate style.
As we hiked through a fresh layer of snow looking for just the right tree, you could hear shouts of others in our group through the woods. After the trees were cut with a saw (not an ax) and brought down the mountain, we gathered around a bonfire to eat a picnic lunch and warm our hands on hot cocoa. Once a few of the boys fell in the icy creek, it was time to strap our Christmas trees to the tops of each vehicle and drive back to Truckee.
This weekend we will put the tree up in our house. I am almost certain I will not be able to say it’s the most beautiful tree we’ve ever had. But as this realization sinks in, so does the idea that this tree doesn’t need to live up to some former ideal of being the grandest, fullest, and most beautiful.
It’s about creating a celebration that is memorable. It’s about having real joy at Christmas time.
For me it’s even more than that. It’s about a much-needed start to eliminating some of the staggering details that wear me down every year at Christmas.
Christmas is not really about decorating or entertaining, or buying or wrapping. In my busy life, it’s easy to lose sight of that.
If our tree can stand as a reminder to me to let go of the more trivial details, scale back on the brutal schedule, slow down and try to enjoy the season, I might start to think that this year’s Christmas tree is indeed the best tree we’ve ever had.
If our slightly imperfect tree can represent all that, plus hold the memories of a special family outing had with good friends in our nearby incredibly beautiful forest, then I think our family very definitely has a new tradition worth carrying on in years to come.
Katie Shaffer has lived in Truckee since 1981.
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