Why Christmas Trees are not Perfect
by Richard Schneider
They say that if you creep into an evergreen forest late at night you can hear the trees talking. In the whisper of the wind you’ll catch the older pines explaining to the younger ones why they’ll never be perfectly shaped.
There will always be a bent branch here, a gap there….
Long, long ago evergreens were perfect, with each taking pride in branches sloping evenly from crown to skirt.
This was particularly true in a small kingdom deep in Europe beyond the Carpathian Mountains.
On the first Saturday of Advent the Queen’s woodsmen would search the royal evergreen forest for the most perfect tree. It would then reign in honor in the great castle hall, shimmering with silver balls and gold angels that sparkle in the light of thousands of candles. While a huge Yule log crackled in the fire, the royal family and villagers would dance and sing around the tree in celebration.
Out in the hushed forest every evergreen vied for this honor, each endeavoring to form its branches and needles to perfection. All strained at the task, fully concentrating on their form and appearance.
One cold night, when a bright white moon glittered on the crusty snow as if it were strewn with millions of diamonds, a small rabbit limped into a grove of evergreens, its sides heaving in panic. Beyond the hill rose the yelping of village dogs in the thrill of the hunt.
The rabbit, eyes wide with fright, frantically searched for cover but found nothing among the dark trunks extending upward into branches that were artfully lifted from the snow.
Faster and faster the rabbit circled as the excited yelping sounded louder and louder. The trees looked askance at this interruption of their evening (when growing was at its best).
And then a small pine shuddered. Of all the young trees, it had the promise of being the finest of the forest. Everything about it from its deep sea-green color to the curl of its branches was perfect.
But now…its lower branches began to dip, down, down, to the ground. And in that instant before the dogs broke into the clearing, the rabbit found safely within the evergreen screen. In the morning the rabbit found its burrow. But the little pine could not quite lift its branches. But no matter, perhaps a little irregularity in a tree so beautiful would not be noticed.
Then a powerful blizzard lashed the land. The villagers slammed shutters closed while the birds and animals huddled in nests and dens. A small wren, blown astray desperately sought sanctuary in the evergreens. But each she approached clenched its branches tight like a fist.
Finally, in exhaustion, she fell into the little pine. The pine’s heart opened and so did its branches, and the wren slept within them, warm and secure. But the pine had difficulty rearranging its branches. There would be a gap evermore.
Weeks passed and winter deepened, bringing a gale as never before experienced in the mountains. It caught a small fawn who had wandered from its mother. Head down and blinded by snow, it inched into the evergreens seeking a windbreak. But the trees held their branches open so the wind could whistle through them without dangerously bending or breaking their limbs.
Again the little pine took pity and tightly closed its branches, forming an impenetrable wall behind which the fawn huddled out of the gale. But alas, when the wind ceased, the small pine had been severely and permanently bent out of shape.
A tear of pine gum oozed from a branch tip. Now it could never hope for the honor it had longed for since a seedling.
Lost in despair, the little pine did not see the good Queen come into the forest. She had come to choose the finest tree herself.
As her royal sleigh slowly passed through the forest, her practiced eye scanned the evergreens now preening themselves. When she saw the little pine, a flush of anger filled her. What right had a tree with such defects to be in the royal forest? Reminding herself to have a woodsman dispose of it, she drove on, but then she stopped and glanced back at it. As she gazed on it, she noticed the tracks of small animals that had found shelter under it and a downy feather within its branches where a bird had nested. And as she studied the gaping hole in its side and its wind-whipped trunk, understanding filled her heart.
“This one” she said. Her attendants gasped. And to the astonishment of the forest, the little pine was borne to the great hall. And everyone who danced and sang around it said it was the finest Christmas tree ever. For in looking at its gnarled and worn branches many saw the protecting arm of their father, others the comforting touch of their mother, and some, as did the Queen, saw the love of Christ expressed on earth.
So, if you walk among the evergreens today, you will find, along with rabbits, birds and other happy living things, drooped branches providing cover, gaps offering nesting places, forms bent from wrestling winter winds.
For as have many of us, the trees have learned that the scars suffered for the sake of others make one beautiful in the eyes of God.