Experiment #76

The Christmas Tree Forest Part 1 of 2

Once upon a time there was a Christmas tree forest. These pine trees lived every day decked out in their Christmas best: ornaments, Christmas balls, colorful lights, stained glass, popcorn strings, stars, white lights, angels, garland, nativity scenes, tinsel, silver bells, and more.

Every year Santa came to that very forest and picked a single tree as the official Christmas tree. He’d transplant it to his North Pole bungalow where it would celebrate Christmas with him and the elves and reindeer. Every tree, seedling, sapling, middle-aged and mature tree alike, vied for this, the highest honor any Christmas tree could hope for.

Magnus, a hearty Norwegian pine, whose tip rose above the other trees by nearly twenty feet, had lived the longest in pursuit of this goal. He had never been transplanted, but had become the local authority on Christmas decorations. Magnus drilled the other trees endlessly on Christmas cheer and parade etiquette. The trees, of course, never moved, but Magnus thought that a silly excuse for being unprepared for a parade.

In his down time, Magnus told long rambling stories of years gone by. When he wasn’t making the saplings drowsy with his stories, he’d recite (unrequested) one of thirty-seven verses he’d composed on the wonders of Christmas.

Once, during one of his drills, a sapling, frustrated by Magnus’s attention to one of his dull silver bells, lashed out at Magnus, “How do you know what Santa wants? It’s not like you’ve been chosen.”

A hush fell over the forest, not a branch creaked, not a leaf rustled. “I-I-I’ve had years of experience,” Magnus stammered. “Watching other trees.”

“Why not decorate yourself then?” the sapling shot back.

And then, before he could think it through, Magnus heard himself say, “Because… Santa… crash landed in my branches once… Near the top where it’s hard to see. If he chose me there’d be a blank space there and that wouldn’t be very official, now would it?” Magnus never repeated the fabricated story, but it became legend, nonetheless. Saplings passed it on to seedlings for generations.

One particular year a young sapling sprang up right next to Magnus. He was one of the most brilliantly decorated trees the Christmas tree forest had ever seen. The young sapling’s name was Percival, but everyone called him Minimous for he was the smallest tree in the forest.

Despite his size, Minimous was far from being timid. He pushed his views of proper decoration on any tree who’d listen and many who didn’t. And he gave Magnus lip every time Magnus tried to instruct him.

The smallest and largest tree verbally spared back and forth for the better part of a year, until the first snow came in early November. The next day an elf scout showed up. Magnus talked up the saplings, but pointed out every little flaw his evergreen branches could find. Burnt-out bulbs, cracked balls, slipping garland, and popcorn the squirrels had eaten off the strings when a sapling wasn’t looking.

The saplings’ bark turned red as Magnus corrected them in front of the elf, and more than one swore vengeance under his roots, but Magnus never criticized anything that didn’t deserve it.

Before the elf left that day, Minimous called him over and spoke with him in hushed tones. Magnus stretched his limbs, but couldn’t hear what they said. At one point both Minimous and the elf laughed. Then the elf took his leave and the trees were left to fret all evening about what he might tell Santa. That night Minimous dropped a bombshell.

“Santa never crashed in Magnus’ branches,” Minimous declared in a loud voice.

“What do you mean?” An older tree asked, though not half as old as Magnus.

“The elf told me,” Minimous said. “There’s no damage to Magnus’ upper branches. Magnus is a liar.”

Magnus did not respond to the allegation in any form. In some ways that made it worse. For the next three days the forest was in an uproar. A third sided with Minimous, a third sided with Magnus and the rest had no idea who to believe. The discontent and gossip reached all the way to Santa himself. Santa summoned the elf who had scouted things out and asked him about all that had transpired.

Santa dismissed the elf and sat in his workshop staring out the window at the trees he had transplanted there one-by-one over the last century. Each still brightly decorated and happily growing, and with a pang of guilt, he realized he had caused this.

He had planted Magnus himself, hoping to give the trees someone who would guide and help them through the years, but had never told Magnus of this special position or why year after year he had passed over Magnus as the official Christmas tree.

Santa thought about the situation long into the night. The next morning, he asked Rudolph to prepare that year’s crop of reindeer colts for a trip to the Christmas tree forest.

“Are you sure they’re ready?” Rudolph asked.

“They’ll do just fine,” Santa said.

Rudolph nodded. “Ok, but I’ll take the lead,” Rudolph said.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Santa said.

Experiment #77

The Christmas Tree Forest Part 2 of 2

Over at the Christmas tree forest the fight had deepened and Minimous now openly challenged Magnus’ authority.

“You’ve never been picked, why should we trust your decorating style?” Minimous said.

“I have been helping trees meet Santa’s requirements for over one hundred years,” Magnus said.

“And yet you’re still here.”

“Ssssshhhh!” Magnus said.

“Ha!” Minimous said, “That’s your comeback?”

“Quiet,” Magnus said. Enough authority seeped into his voice to quiet Minimous for the moment. And then Minimous heard it too: Jingle Bells.

“The Sleigh,” Magnus said.

“What?” Minimous asked. “Today?”

“Right now.”

“Well then, we’ll see what the big man has to say about your boasts.”

Just as Minimous said this it became quite clear that something was wrong. Santa’s normal, “Ho, Ho, Ho!” was replaced by “Hoooooooooo, Hoooooooo, Whooooooaahh!”

They looked toward the north and saw the sleigh flying erratically, headed straight for the Christmas Tree Forest. Rudolph led with eight colts floundering behind him, too young to handle the cross winds above the northern ice.

Minimous cried out as the sleigh crashed into Magnus. But Magnus did not shy away, he enveloped them with his branches. Taking the worst of the crash on his limbs, hoping to save Santa and the reindeer some pain. And his plan worked, though they crunched through much of his outer foliage and decorations. The deer all suffered minor cuts and Santa suffered a gash across his right arm, but all in all the crash caused little damage.

When Santa, the reindeer, and the sleigh had all been extricated from Magnus, medical care had been provided to all involved, and Magnus’ decorations had been salvaged as much as possible, Santa made an announcement.

“Let me first say a jolly thank you to Magnus who with sacrificial courage and, without fearing danger to life or limb, caught my reindeer and my slay. Courage and self-sacrifice like this is the true meaning of Christmas.

“All of you know of my yearly trip to pick an official Christmas tree. And though I’m sad to say it, I have not chosen Magnus.”

Minimous cheered silently.

“He would do an excellent job,” Santa continued, “and his decorations are impeccable, or, at least, they were before my earlier accident. But I have a job for him that is far more important, far more critical to the success of Christmas. I need him to do what he had been doing for nearly the last century. I need him to watch over the forest and help the seedlings and saplings learn how to decorate themselves.”

He turned to Magnus. “I have never told you this, old friend, but I have relied on your wisdom and generosity of character for much of the last century.”

Santa touched Magnus’ trunk. “And it is with great gratitude that I now ask you to stay on as my emissary to this forest, my Ambassador to the forest. Will you do that for me?”

Magnus rustled his branches, a whispered “Yes.”

“Thank you,” Santa said. “I know the forest could have no greater caretaker.”

Santa paused, collecting his thoughts. “I have decided to do something different this year.”

Minimous stretched his limbs to hear. He knew that choosing a sapling would be something different.

“Truth is I don’t like the way things have turned out. I planted this forest as an example. A place Christmas trees around the world could look to and see what Christmas is all about… But you have descended to squabbling and lying and jockeying for position.” Santa blinked back tears. “I am disappointed with you… all of you…”

He paused.

The trees bent their branches like willows. One sapling even let out a sob.

“I came here to take back a tree. To have a Christmas tree in my yard to celebrate with, and I’m not going to do that.”

Needles dropped from every tree, the equivalent of a human gasp.

“No!” Magnus shouted. “Please, Sir, take one. Everyone has worked so hard this year. Why, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a better lot of Christmas trees-”

“No,” Santa said.

“What about Minimous?” Magnus asked, “His decorations are the finest here.”

Minimous blushed.

“I have made my decision and it stands,” Santa said. “I will not take one of you back with me. I will take all of you.”

“But, Sir, please! The saplings will- wait, all of us?”

“Yes, my friend, all.”

“But-but why?”

“Because Christmas is not about competition or great decorations. At its heart, it’s about getting something you don’t deserve… about love so big it can’t be contained and gifts so sweet, so honest, we can barely look to the sky and whisper thank you.”

Luckily the elves were well ahead of schedule because it took nearly two weeks to transplant the entire forest. And what joy it brought. Old friends were reunited. Parents saw what their seedlings had grown into. And siblings once again found themselves within branch’s reach.

That year the Christmas tree forest celebrated together, as a forest, as a family.

Magnus still drills his charges endlessly, and Minimous still fights to get out of Magnus’ shadow, but there is a new atmosphere of love and cooperation in the forest. Christmas does not just hang on their branches anymore, it has entered their roots, flowed up their trunks, down their branches and out to the edges of their needles.