This article originally appeared in the December 11, 1987 issue of Christianity Today.
Two years ago at Christmas I was living in Montana in the Rocky Mountains where I grew up. The National Forest Service there allows people to cut their own Christmas tree. So Jan, my wife, and I went out one day with an axe into the snow-filled forest to get ours. We spotted what looked like the right tree-it was 200 yards up a hillside, and we had to tramp through snow to get to it. In that forest and on that hillside it was a spectacularly beautiful tree. But after we got it back to our home on the lake and set it up in our wood-fired and carpeted living room, we realized that a considerable amount of its charm had been lost in transit.
It was an Engleman spruce, a tree with character, having lived a hard life on the mountain, and we had hiked through 16 inches of snow to get it. It still looked handsome enough to me, but when our three children, all adults now, arrived to celebrate the holiday with us, they took one look and mocked. They were used to coifed Scotch pines, bought from the Lions Club in the Safeway parking lot in Maryland. If those were too picked over, we patronized the Boy Scouts selling from the Methodist parking lot. Buying a tree was a family affair, with arguments about size and thickness and symmetry. This was our first tree chosen without benefit of children.
In Montana, with an entire forest of trees to pick from, they thought we could have done better. We reminisced about the Christmas trees we had bought and set up and decorated. The more we talked, the more scrawny this Engleman spruce appeared. But finally we all agreed it was a tree, after all, and the moment it was designated Christmas tree it was suitable.1