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By Staff | Dec 18, 2015

Perhaps one of the strangest traditions we observe during the Yuletide season – other than using the word “Yuletide” – is the act of installing an indoor Christmas tree.

All year long we do our best to keep our houses clean. We go to extremes to keep such disgusting creatures as bugs and birds and the Kardashians from contaminating our domiciles.

And what do you suppose lives in trees? Bugs and birds.

I don’t have to point out that neither insects nor avians are known for their high standards when it comes to toilet habits.

Drive past any shopping center and you’ll see that the Christmas tree tradition is alive and thriving. Some parking lots contain so many trees, they could qualify as national forests.

Once was a time when nobody paid for Christmas trees, at least not in our little farming community.

When I was a youngster, Haas and Wolfe Lumber, our local lumberyard, gave Christmas trees to their loyal customers. This included our family.

It was an exciting day when our parents bundled us eight kids into our 1959 Ford station wagon and took us to town to pick out a tree.

The prospective Christmas trees would be lined up along a wall of the lumberyard’s gigantic shed, like wallflowers who were hoping that someone would ask them to dance. Each tree was scrutinized and debated over before one was finally selected. We hoped to find a specimen that held that intangible spark of Christmas magic.

The chosen tree would be stuffed into the back of the station wagon.

During the drive home, the tree’s piney fragrance blended with the excited breaths of eight kids who were drunk on Christmas anticipation.

We all smelled like Lysol by the time we got home, but nobody cared. After the tree was extracted from the station wagon, we gave it a shake in an attempt to remove loose needles. “Attempt” is the operative term.

Once the tree was squeezed through a couple of narrow doorways and ensconced in the living room, anyone could have traced its route by following the trail of fallen needles.

We didn’t have a Christmas tree stand, so we crammed the trunk of the tree into the mouth of an old gallon milk jug.

The entire family then bent to the task of decorating the cherished conifer. The operation ran like a Rube Goldberg clock, with the younger kids randomly hanging decorations on the lower boughs and the older kids randomly decorating the higher branches.

The most challenging part was untangling the Christmas tree lights, which always managed to become a knot of wires and fragile-as-soap-bubble bulbs.

When the last strand of tinsel was finally hung, the lights were powered up. It never failed: our Christmas tree always had that spark of Christmas magic.

One Christmas it looked as if we wouldn’t have a Christmas tree.

It was the Bad Winter of ’68, a season that brought an unending procession of Biblical blizzards.

Living on the ice planet Hoth would have been a Fourth of July picnic by comparison.

School was cancelled for weeks at a time due to the deep snow. I wouldn’t be surprised if I still need to make up missed classes.

Free Christmas tree or no, we couldn’t risk the trek to town. We might become mired in a mountainous snowdrift and not be found until centuries later when we emerged from the toe of a melting glacier.

Dad pointed out that we had a spruce tree on our farmyard and that one of its branches could be a “make do” Christmas tree.

Armed with a hacksaw, my two brothers and I muscled through the snow and amputated one of the spruce’s limbs.

I checked our prize for bird’s nests and hibernating bugs as we dragged it toward the house.

After we had set the branch in the milk jug, we noticed a problem. Being just a bough, our “tree” was two-dimensional. It looked sort of like a Christmas tree, albeit one that had been flattened by a steam roller.

There seemed to be no chance that this scraggly collection of needles and sticks could contain any Christmas magic.

Even so, we decorated the branch best as we could. This didn’t take long, since there was just one side to work with.

When the decorating was done, we stood back and held our collective breaths. Someone plugged in the lights and … there it was.

The Christmas magic had somehow happened.

I don’t recall what I got for Christmas that year. But I do know that we had plenty of food and a warm house and a loving family.

And a spruce bough that, by some miracle, brought us the gift of Christmas magic.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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