For as long as I can remember my family has searched for the perfect Christmas tree.
Each year, a few days before Christmas, my parents would load up all five of us kids and take us to hike some property, somewhere (I can't name locations for legal reasons ... some people don't yet know that they donated the perfect tree).
We would spread out through the woods, in order to cover as much terrain as possible and call out to each other about this tree or that tree. When we thought we had found "The Tree," everyone would gather around to discuss the merits of it, i.e. height, width, fullness, number of trunks, etc.
Some features were more critical than others. For example, we never wanted to get a tree with a split trunk because more often than not, when all the cutting was done, we ended up with only half a tree (or less). Often we would say "Okay, remember that one. If we don't find a better one, then that's the one. We'll just cut the top out of it," as if 1) we would actually be able to find that particular tree again and 2) just using the top of a tree was ever a good idea.
Well, now that I have a family of my own, we carry on the tradition, as do my siblings. There are no ends to which we will not go in search of the perfect Christmas tree.
One year my sister and her husband walked the train tracks in Tuscaloosa looking for a tree. Luckily they found one (sorry CSX) and cut it down with the hedge clippers they brought along. That'll tell you something about their version of perfection.
As the rules for the hunt have developed over the years (rules such as Mama has the final say on which tree comes home, don't trespass, and trees are always bigger in your house than they appear in the forest), I have finally determined the characteristics of the perfect Christmas tree.
First and foremost, it must be a cedar tree. Cedar trees, by far, have the most Christmasy smell. Once home, the tree must be too tall and too wide for its intended space. It should be flat on one side, but so full on the other sides that you can barely slip around it to pass through the room.
It usually requires two feet to be cut off the top to avoid touching the ceiling and six inches shaved on the bottom so it will fit in the tree stand. Then five holes must be drilled in the trunk to accommodate the gluing of essential branches back in place.
Finally, decorations are extremely important. The perfect tree has strands of colored lights, some of which blink erratically, and one or two strands that are only half lit. It must be covered (and I mean completely covered) with ornaments, homemade as well as those picked up in truck stop gift shops as souvenirs and those memorializing long lost pets. Examples of ornaments include medicine bottle ornaments made by my third cousin (part of my inheritance), silver-painted turkey wishbones from my great grandmother's Christmas turkeys, a green construction paper ornament with most of the glitter missing that was made in kindergarten 30 years ago, a papier-mích» crab from Tybee Island, giant dancing bears from Mt. Rainier, and a seashell covered in glitter from Encinitas, Cal.
At least once, sometimes twice, during the season, the perfect tree falls over crushing gifts and dumping ornaments (thus the collection of partially broken ornaments hanging from various branches), and terrifying the cat. So it follows that the perfect tree is often tied to a nail hammered into the window frame.
Okay, I concede. The perfect Christmas tree is not so perfect ... at least not by decorator standards. What makes it perfect is not so much the appearance as it is the smell of the cedar, the tradition of the hunt and the thrill of the find. Perfection is found in the shared memories as each ornament is brought out, hung on the tree and its history discussed. Basically, it is not perfect because of how it looks, but rather because of what it represents and how it makes us feel. The perfect Christmas tree is one that, after all the hard work and despite its many flaws, makes the whole family stand back in awe and say, "This is our best tree ever."