This year as I pulled down our Christmas tree from storage, blew dust off the box, and brought it into the living room where my four kids were giddy with excitement, I thought, This is perfect.
My eight-year-old son found some Christmas music on Pandora and we set up the tree as Jingle Bell Rock and White Christmas played through a tiny smartphone speaker. Again, I looked around and thought, Yep, this is perfect.
When each branch of the tree was in place, my kids went to town in a flurry of activity. They wove lights, hung bulbs and exclaimed loudly, “I remember this one!” and “Hey, this is the ornament I made in first grade!”
Then my nine-year-old daughter stood back and said, “Mom, the tree looks a lot smaller than it did last year.”
“Yeah,” added my son, “and it’s kind of wobbly.”
And finally the icing on the cake from my six-year-old, “Mom, this isn’t such a good tree.”
The Ugliest Tree on Pinterest
To be truthful, my daughter is 100% right—it isn’t such a good tree. In fact, by Pinterest standards, it just may be the ugliest tree out there. It would never be photographed for a magazine, nor would it be featured in a selfie on Instagram.
But the tree has character. And a story.
Eight years ago when my oldest had just learned to take her first steps and my stomach was 36-weeks swollen with her little brother, we bought our first house. Every penny we’d saved for years went into the deposit for our starter home. We sat on lawn chairs in our new living room for weeks because we couldn’t yet afford a couch. Christmas was coming up and I knew it would probably be a pretty simple one.
One day I walked into Rite Aid and there it was, in a busted up box on the ground with a big sign that said “75% off”—the world’s ugliest Christmas tree. Which of course I bought.
When I brought it home, my husband took one look and said, “Well, it’s a…tree.”
That year we welcomed our first baby boy and as the four of us gathered around our wobbly little tree on Christmas morning, passing around a few presents, my heart was full.
Since that simple Christmas, life only blossomed. Our savings started to replenish, we brought home another baby girl and a few years later, another baby boy. Four became six and the couch we waited so long to get had quickly become rumpled and furrowed from being jumped on.
Every Christmas I swore I’d buy a new Christmas tree. A nice big one with full branches and snow-tipped pine needles. We had the money; there was absolutely no excuse not to toss the old tree and replace it with something more grand.
And yet every year, that small, wobbly tree kept finding itself back in our living room.
Today, eight Christmases later, the tree is now swallowed up by all of the handmade ornaments my kids have made over the years. It’s been tipped over and tugged on, and probably has plenty of little boogers hiding in it. That tree represents my kids’ childhood.
And although it’s ugly as sin, every time I look at our derelict little tree, I smile. It reminds me of simplicity, of imperfection, and of humble beginnings.
When you search “Christmas tree ideas” on Pinterest, you will get elaborately decorated trees with beautiful matching bulbs and delicate trinkets. These are trees that can’t be touched. These are trees children aren’t allowed to decorate, not allowed to help.
I like to say that my tree is keeping it real.
The First Imperfect Christmas
So much of our holiday season is exhausted in the quest for perfection. We work frenetically to get the perfect gifts, have the perfectly decorated home, to create the perfect Christmas. And creating beauty and joy for the holidays is a noble pursuit—unless it makes us feel cranky, stressed, jealous, or inadequate. Don’t ever let unrealistic expectations interfere with pure and simple joy. It is okay for life to be imperfect.
After all, if we gauge the very first Christmas by today’s Pinterest standards, it would have failed. There were no lights, no garlands, no presents, and no elaborately bedazzled tree.
There was only a stable, a manger, and the greatest gift of all. Sometimes the perfect Christmas isn’t necessarily what you think it is.