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.