The Biggest Little Christmas Tree

His daughter's enthusiasm for Christmas brightens his holiday.

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An artist's rendering of a ring of angels dancing around a Christmas tree

We pulled up at the Christmas tree lot near our home. Four-year-old Lisa hopped out of the car. “Let’s get the best one!”

My wife, Shirley, and I looked at each other. Christmas had always been a time of giving around our house, but this particular Christmas, we didn’t have much to give. Money was tight. Big trees were expensive.

How could we tell Lisa that we couldn’t afford to buy a big, beautiful tree? I was tired of our money problems ruining everything for our little girl.

The lot was filled to bursting with evergreens. There seemed to be as many trees here as there were angels in heaven. The rich scent of pine needles perfumed the air. Lisa hustled us onto the path.

“Look at them all!” Lisa said, spinning with her arms out wide. I looked, all right. I checked the price tag on one of the bigger ones, a seven-footer that would reach almost to our ceiling, and shook my head. We had to find something smaller. Lord, please don’t let Lisa be too disappointed.

And then I spotted it. So did Shirley. The tiniest, loveliest tree, perhaps five feet high, its branches arched upward, its color a deep forest green—as lovely as a child ballerina. I wonder why no one has snatched it up yet, I thought. Just as quickly, I answered my own question. Who wanted a small tree?

And then for a long moment, I traveled back in time. I was four—Lisa’s age—when for the first time, my parents took me Christmas-tree shopping. We arrived at the tree lot, and immediately my parents and older brother disappeared down the rows and rows of green, fragrant trees, exploring.

Me, I was mesmerized, just like Lisa. I stood near the entrance, staring. It was like entering a toy store featuring all my favorite toys, wondering how I would ever choose just one from among them.

My tennis shoes wiggled in the sawdust spread on the floor. Across the way, a crackling fire burned in a drum barrel filled with logs turned orange by the flames.

“Hey, Raymond, aren’t you going to help us look for a tree?” called my mother. She sidled up to me, reached down and took my hand. “Come on,” she urged.

We walked the rows of trees. Craning my neck toward their peaks, I felt as though I was making my way through a big green canyon. Then I spotted a tree standing in a corner, apparently shoved aside. To me, it was absolutely perfect, the most beautiful on the lot.

“I want this one,” I said, with all the authority a four-year-old can muster.

My parents eyed one another. My big brother scrunched up his nose. The tree was five feet tall, at most. Dad shrugged. “Well, I won’t have to saw the end off to fit it in the house,” he said.

Dad lifted it free, paid the proprietor and tied it to the roof of our car. At home, Mom made hot chocolate for my brothers and me, and we all decorated the tree, squeezing in every ornament we could possibly fit. It was the prettiest tree I had ever seen. And from where I stood, it sure looked big to me.

Now, all these years later, I admired another height-challenged tree. Bigger doesn’t mean better, I thought. And money can’t make or break Christmas.

Shirley and I would show Lisa that this was indeed the season of giving. Even if our bank account was low, the love in our hearts would never run out. We always had at least that to give.

Suddenly, I heard a familiar, excited voice. “I want that one!” Lisa said, pointing to the same little tree Shirley and I had our eyes on. “It’s perfect.” My thought exactly.

“We’ ll take that one,” I said, pointing to Lisa’s very affordable selection. I carried our find to the car. It couldn’t have been more perfect if it had been 10 feet tall.

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