Boots rustle in the foyer. Coats are slowly lifted off of hooks; scarves and gloves are extracted from baskets designating each owner’s name. There is a hush in the room. Eyes dart back and forth, hearts race in various states of nervousness, unbelief, courage, fear and adventure-inspired ecstasy.
Someone in the room is the True Believer. The True Believer holds that the mission, though treacherous, can be accomplished. Others are not so sure, silent participants in a game they believe may end in failure – and the demise of a family’s holiday happiness. Still others are literally forced to weather the elements ahead to accomplish a singular goal, an ultimate mission.
Yes, it is the yearly Quest for the Perfect Christmas Tree.
Some think the Perfect Christmas Tree is the stuff of fairy tales and legends. But for the True Believer, she knows the Perfect Christmas Tree is out there, waiting, yearning to be brought into the greenhouse warmth of our home. Each year, tradition has it the Perfect Christmas Tree is mysteriously born again, waiting in the fields of a tree farm or forest (or someone’s backyard — should they be privileged enough to play host to this divine gift), waiting to be paid homage with the stroke of a saw blade and a decorating frenzy.
This year, as always, the expectation is high in the True Believer. The Compliant Spouse now enters the scene, and is preparing to embark on the Quest, primarily commissioned to gather the Unwitting Hordes to follow in a pack in support of the True Believer. Through varied terrain, a sea of evergreens, and only the faint hope of a steaming cup of hot chocolate waiting on the other side, the small pack of trained tree assassins make their way to the mini-van.
Christmas carols fill the air as the Compliant Spouse seeks to distract the Unwitting Hordes and the True Believer (as if this was possible), with the real meaning of the season. However, there is a palpable tension in the air. The elusive goal is an either/or proposition. To find the Perfect Christmas Tree will bring immediate and great joy to the True Believer, moderate amusement to the Compliant Spouse, and a brainwashing enchantment to the Unwitting Hordes.
To not find the Perfect Christmas Tree will beg the severest of consequences — the veiled disappointment rippling through the entire team, from which the weakest may never recover. The Quest is a watershed moment frozen in time.
We arrive at the chosen venue (surely the True Believer has been watching the alignment of the stars, and that is why we return to the same tree farm every year), and stumble out of the van. The yearly Wagon Ride at the tree farm is festive, but not engaging enough to mute the underlying voices in our minds. The voices sound strikingly like that of the True Believer. “We must find the Perfect Christmas Tree,” the voices chant. “Failure is not an option,” they burrow into our psyche.
When the wagon stops, the hidden voices dissipate, and we disembark with deep breaths and scanning eyes. We are mobilized, and the True Believer makes silent gestures in various directions (so as not to alert others), toward which the Unwitting Hordes scatter. We must be the first to find the Perfect Christmas Tree — and there are others in the field. We smile at them, but deep down we know that they are our Christmas Adversaries.
Over the next few hours (ed. Note: literal time, not figurative story-telling time), shouts emanate from different parts of the Field. “I found it, this is the best one ever!” cries a twelve-year old voice. “No, mine is waaaayyyyy better,” comes the retort of a ten-year old. “Daddy, taste this snowball,” is mumbled by an experimenting seven-year old.
We’re not finding the Perfect Christmas Tree, for all of our efforts, and the Compliant Spouse is beginning to worry whether or not the True Believer will ever make it back from this perilous journey. The concern is not for her physical return, but rather for her spiritual and emotional return. Each year at this time, the stakes are high.
The continued search is filled with the traditional events we distract our increasing “can’t-find-the-darn-tree” pain with yearly. The Father-Initiated-Snowball-Fight event always has its takers, as the evergreens provide the best deflection for the nasty white orbs. The ever-popular Snow-Tackling-Frenzy is slowly becoming a favorite, at least until someone gets the fluffy, fat rain down their shirt and never wants to play again. But then there is the annual Foot-Dragging-and-Whining-Spectacle. Oh, the humanity. The Unwitting Hordes have honed this piece down to an artful science, saving their best creative energies for last. Even Unwitting Hordes from other tribes listen to my own batch’s mournful wails, and seek to mimic them in sheer admiration.
All these events, however, are simply pre-cursors to the traditional pinnacle of the Quest’s activities: the annual Walk-To-The-Pre-Cut-Tree-Lot event. We never expect the moment to come, at least we can’t voice the expectation in the presence of the True Believer, but it inevitably does.
As we walk toward this unhappy section of the tree farm, Happy Families who have found their own replicas of the Perfect Christmas Tree giggle and laugh, never thinking for a moment that their frivolity only deepens our pain. For those who appreciate Scotch Pine, their sub-quest is all the easier. For we (the True Believer speaks for us all) who will only settle for the Perfect Christmas Tree, which is always a Fir, the search is more of a martyr’s path, and we (the True Believer speaks again for us all) gladly take the less-trodden road.
Out of pity, compassion or sheer amusement, my friend at the Pre-Cut Tree Lot area is always willing to give us a deal on one of the few remaining “winners” left. We find A Tree, which is not the Perfect Christmas Tree, but rather A Tree, and decide to give it a home, in our home.
Re-entry back into the mini-van is a mixture of celebration (the sugar high from the hot chocolate), and re-assuring speeches (the rationalization high from the failed quest) on the usefulness of the acquired tree given by the True Believer. These speeches, of course, are given with the full and unadulterated support of the Compliant Spouse.
Debriefing sessions ensue, usually directed toward the Unwitting Hordes, and their disappointments that “their tree wasn’t picked” (as if anyone could ever take personal ownership of the high and mighty Perfect Christmas Tree).
When we arrive home, a few more events take the edge off of our failed search. The annual Spin-The-Tree-Until-The-Right-Side-Is-Facing-Out event is an opportunity both for the venting of squelched anger, and the airing of general grievances. The Egg-Nog-Spill-Contest always takes place during the oohs and ahhs of decorating the tree. The annual Mommy-Doesn’t-Want-that- Ornament-Hung-There-Because- She-Inwardly-Hates-It-But- Feels-Obligated-to- Hang-It event always stirs up deep feelings of Christmas tradition.
Finally, the children make their way to bed, with visions of Perfect Christmas Trees dancing in their heads. “The tree looks great now, Hon,” the Compliant Spouse offers to genuinely affirm, and soothe the disappointment of the True Believer. With a look, a lean and a kiss, the True Believer offers these words of affection back:
“Thanks for doing this again this year, Hon. You were a real trooper. Next year, we’ll find the Perfect Christmas Tree; next year we’ll find It.” A tender kiss on the cheek, under plastic flora reminiscent of mistletoe, ends the evening. And yet, a spark has been ignited, a chain reaction begun that is unsettling and unfamiliar to The Compliant Spouse.
He cannot sleep for the rest of the night. It seems a metamorphosis has begun that will keep the tradition alive in a genetic thread that may last centuries, even millennia, or more. This year’s True Believer, with the humble seed of a kiss, has passed on the mantle. A new True Believer is born, awaiting next year’s Christmas Quest to reveal himself.
But, for this night, dreams of the Perfect Christmas Tree will wait to be fulfilled until next winter’s drifts give way to the feet of the questing once again.