Saturday, my father, my daughter, and two friends went to cut our Christmas tree. Every year, we march out to some spot out of town for the annual sawing down of the Tannenbaum.
We’d like to take Karl along, but even though we call his wheelchair an ATV, it’s not, really, especially at a Christmas tree farm in winter. So he stayed home with someone to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special.
Turns out it was an appropriate choice, in a Bah Humbug-y sort of way.
Typically, my family waits until the very last moment possible because it’s Advent: that’s what you do.
However, Saturday was the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death of pancreatic cancer.
There was something purposeful and poetic about changing the date of our Christmas tree harvest to take place on the day that my mama died.
That and it was atypically 50 degrees in South Dakota, so all in all it seemed like a fine idea.
We put on our boots and our jeans and our vests, we piled in the van, and we drove a ways (Dad: “So the farm is in Des Moines, then?”) until we saw a promising sea of green.
Dozens of saws sirened to us from the side of the owner’s pole barn. Our friend Thomas picked just the right one, and happy and expectant, we trudged into the thicket of trees…but not before we heard these pointed words from the owner’s wife:
Only the ones with the white tags are for sale, you know. The tags are found on the South side of the tree. This direction [she pointed toward the road wending its way into the farm] is South. The trees are all pretty picked over, of course. This is our last day, you know.
It wasn’t just their last day: by the time we got (Dad: “way the…”) out there, they had only an hour and a half before they shuttered up the Christmas Spirit until next November.
But the way we saw it, the Spirit of Christmas Present was still ours for 90 whole minutes: as far as the eye could see, Balsams, White Pines, Frasers, Scotch Pines wooed us.
The Mother Lode of Norman Rockwell Christmas Trees.
We were giddy.
We were giddy until we slowly realized that not a single one of them had the Holy Grail of a plastic white tag hanging on the South side of the tree.
Up and down the muddy rows we went, trying to convince ourselves that if we turned a be-tagged tree just so, it would be fine…if you didn’t look at the frost scorched branches on the other side, say.
Meanwhile, from the trees being sequestered for next year, I am almost convinced that as we slowly walked by them, I heard them laughing amongst themselves. I am almost sure that I saw a few of them turning, just a bit, to show off their perfectly shaped branches, their succulent green, their lush limbs coyly asking for an ornament to be hung just…exactly….there.
You need to understand a couple of things, here: We cut down our trees because we love supporting local businesses; we love the hunt (it’s the closest I imagine I’ll ever get to understanding the thrill of the hunters stalking the fields in search of the Christmas goose); and we hang and light real candles on our tree on Christmas Eve.
The risk of our whole house going up in flames is greatly reduced if our tree has not been cut in July, wrapped in twine, stuffed in a warehouse, and then shipped to our local Costco lot in late November.
All that said, we pay for our Christmas Tree joy, too.
Freshly cut trees are really expensive, and so with all due respect to Charlie Brown, I want my $70.00 to enable a local grower to put just that many more presents under their family Christmas tree, while I sit underneath my own majestic-personally-harvested one for 12 glorious days, plus a handful more on either side of the season.
Finally, disgusted by our options, I looked at my watch.
It was 45 minutes before the place closed down: again, not just for the day, but for the entire season.
All those trees, ones that were perfect this year, were going to grow in these upcoming months. By next year, they might even be too big for your average home (Dad: “Next year, they’ll be ideal for nothing but your local gymnasium.”).
For that matter, who knows if next Christmas will even come, say I.
So I said it.
I went to the owner’s wife, made my case that there were 45 minutes left in the entire season; that we hadn’t been dilly-dallying in our Christmas tree selection (funny, how I felt the need to explain that it wasn’t that we were just tardy to the task), but rather that our family treasures Advent; that as she had said all the trees were picked over; that I wouldn’t put $70.00 to one of those but for one of the stunning [Dad: “gazillions of”] trees that they had everywhere else, well, I’d be happy to give them $70.00 and then some right here and now to go and cut us down one of those.
She was clearly unimpressed.
Almost cruelly, because she and I both knew what would come of it, she said, “You’ll have to ask my husband.”
So I did.
“You and everyone else,” he growled. “No. I have to save them for next year.”
Now let me be clear: I’ve read the Lorax.
I understand the need to save the trees.
But may I remind you: 45 minutes before the end of the season.
They were closing up shop until November 2015.
The tunes on the recording piped through the farm were warped, they had been played so many times.
It was getting dark.
There were no headlights lined up on that South road, no Field of Dreams bumper-to-bumper car scene before our eyes.
Just a Field of Off-Limits Greens.
Unable to shake the dust off our feet, we tried to kick the caked-in mud off of our boots, and we drove off, smug, righteously indignant, but treeless nonetheless.
And we figured that my mother would have loved it.
She would have figured that we deserved it.
My mama was not a good wait-er. She was impatient, often even in a good way.
She wanted good things to happen now.
I appreciate Advent so much because I have a bit of my mother in me in this regard.
Waiting is hard for me. Be it for healing, for justice, for mercy, for the snow to come, for reconciliation, for quiet, for a hot meal I can savor from beginning to end, I want it now.
Advent is a helpful antidote to my own restless spirit.
But then this Christmas Tree farmer comes along and tells me I have to wait until next year, because I waited too long this year; regardless of what I can and want to do, he’s going to wait until next year.
And it occurs to me that all this waiting that isn’t rewarded with a darn thing: I don’t have a Christmas tree, and Farmer Scrooge doesn’t have an extra $70.00 of Christmas geld in his pocket (Dad and me: “Coal, maybe?”).
It dawned on me that part of the discipline of Advent is waiting, but part of it is also preparing. It’s participating in the moment, for Jesus is coming, and there is much to do.
I don’t mean it in the way of the T-shirts and bumper stickers that say, “Jesus is coming: Look Busy!”
I mean it in the sense that Jesus is coming: be busy with the work of the reign of God. You don’t have to wait to do it. Do it now.
People are hungry.
People are hurting.
There is joy to create.
There is peace to be made.
Seize the moment.
Seize the day.
And my personal take-away for next year: Carpe Treeum, for according to Dad, even Costco is out until next year too.