Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The great Christmas tree hunt

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published January 1, 2016

As a child, I loved Christmas movies where the family heads into the snowy woods to find a tree, chop it down and drag it back home. The snow crunches under the children’s feet, and their breath looks like smoke.

I grew up in Miami, however, where getting a tree was basically a shopping expedition. Wearing cotton clothing and flip-flops, my sister and I climbed into the car with our parents—and I can assure you there was nary an axe in sight.2015 12 24 GB MURRAY The great Christmas tree hunt

True, our Florida festivities lacked snowmen, fireplaces and mittens, but still we embarked upon the annual tree hunt with great joy and optimism.

When we arrived at the lot, my father scrutinized the prospects with two criteria in mind. Was the tree affordable? And would it fit into our house without requiring extensive nips and tucks?

As for his daughters, we made a beeline to a tree that could have graced the front of a Christmas card. We fell in love on the spot but knew better than to voice our votes too vociferously to our father.

Instead, we did the next best thing, which was quietly appealing to our mother to intercede for us.

“Honey, this one looks nice,” she said to our father with a smile.

“It’s lopsided,” he replied in earshot of the cigar-smoking man selling the trees.

Now the man drew nearer. “You want that tree?” he asked.

My father examined a limb darkly as if it might harbor a disease that would decimate all the palm trees in the city.

“What’s it going for?” he asked dubiously.

In fact, he knew the price since the tag was in full sight, but his question was the opening salvo to the bargaining process, an essential element in the ritual.

The man repositioned the cigar in his mouth. “Ten bucks.”

My father flinched as if he had spotted a serpent coiled in the branches, then started walking away.

“I can shave off a few dollars,” the man called out.

The deal was finally sealed, and the man tied the tree to the top of the car. On the drive home my parents were in jolly spirits, since in our family there was nothing more satisfying than a decent markdown.

Once we got home, my father’s joy ebbed as he realized the “dadgum” tree was too tall, which meant he had to saw off a hefty portion to fit it into the living room. When that was accomplished, my mother viewed the tree carefully and made a few suggestions.

“That side is best,” she’d say, and he would move the tree.

“No, on second thought, I like it the way it was before.”

This went on for a few twists and turns, until my mother was satisfied, and my father didn’t mention that the tree was now in its original place.

After that came the stringing of the “blasted” lights, which my father suspected had come to life in the attic since last Christmas and intentionally twisted themselves into maddeningly tangled clumps.

When the tree was finally sparkling with lights, my parents sipped Scotch and sodas and watched their daughters putting the glass baubles upon the branches. If they noticed that their cherubic girls were arguing over some of the ornaments, they didn’t say a word.

As the days drew nearer to Christmas, I enjoyed lying down under the tree and staring upwards through the twinkling branches. Sometimes I’d remove the sheep and the camel from the creche and let them roam around a bit, figuring Jesus wouldn’t mind.

So what if we lived in Miami, where it was hot and sticky on Christmas Day? So what if we didn’t have a chimney, which meant Santa had to make other arrangements?

We had the magical tree, we had each other—and we had treasured memories that would never, ever be marked down.

Artwork by Jef Murray. Lorraine Murray’s email address is