The Christmas Tree

In the winter of 1983, my parents had been married for 16 months. They were 20 years old and juniors in college. They were broke. As in, 25 cents in the checkbook at the end of the month is a success, broke. My dad had two jobs: a part-time youth pastor position at a tiny little church and a job as an assistant at their college.

After a hard semester of counting pennies and writing papers, they had plans to go see my mom’s family for the holiday — plans to eat a giant Christmas feast around a big table, plans to leave behind their tiny college town and little brown house for a few days. But all those plans changed as sheets of snow and ice fell over Williamsburg, Kentucky. The interstate was closed in sections all the way down their route. And it was going to get worse before it was going to get better. Three days before Christmas, they called off their trip and declared themselves snowed in.

My mom cried. Holidays have always been important to her, and not being with family was devastating. My dad felt helpless. There was no money for a big Christmas dinner, no money for elaborate gifts, and no money for decorations. My dad, however, was not one to sit idly. So, on Christmas Eve, my dad went to the local store while my mom took a nap.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 10.03.23 AMHe was standing outside the store when he saw it: a big, beautiful Christmas tree. It was the kind of tree they would have sat around with family if they hadn’t been forced to call off their trip. The kind of tree that was glaringly absent from their little living room. The kind of tree you wouldn’t expect to still be available the day before Christmas. The kind of tree that cost way more than my dad had in his tiny budget.

While he was standing there staring at this tree, the manager of the store walked outside. For a moment they stood there, side by side, their breaths rising in the cold air, staring at the beautiful tree. The manager spoke up, “It’s a beautiful tree, isn’t it?”

My dad nodded. “I’d love to get it, but it’s more than I can afford.” The manager looked at him for a long moment and then gave him a fatherly little smile. “It’s Christmas Eve,” he said. “Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give it to you for half price.”

So my dad loaded up the big, beautiful tree. He walked back into the grocery store and bought one string of lights, a package of silver tinsel, and a few boxes of the cheapest brightly colored Christmas baubles he could find on the 80 percent off rack. Then he went in search of a Christmas dinner, which ended up being turkey drumsticks and stuffing.

He got back in the car and drove the tree home and snuck it into the house while my mom slept. He set it up in the living room and got out the boxes of ornaments. He turned on some Christmas music. Then, he went into the bedroom and woke her up. He walked her into the living room and showed her the big, beautiful tree. To this day, he still talks about the way her face lit up when she saw it. They decorated the tree together and covered it with those cheap Christmas baubles. They gave each other presents: a new Bible for her and a tie for him.

That Christmas of 1983 is the one my parents still talk about. It’s the one they remember after 32 years of marriage. And this year, when they decorate their tree, they’ll hang one old, chipped blue Christmas bauble – a lasting reminder of the richest Christmas they ever had.

Jessi Hooley is the editorial assistant at Good News. 


  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, so wonderfully written! It brought tears to me eyes, probably because I had a similar experience. My husband and I were broke for our first Christmas together. He was a junior in college with a part-time job, and I was a new stay-at-home mom with our three week old baby. We were very happy, but we discussed our finances and decided we should not spend the money for a Christmas tree. We lived in an upstairs apartment in an old house, and as the days until Christmas approached, it did seem rather drab without a tree. About three days before Christmas, my husband surprised me by bringing home a small tree, lights and two boxes of gold and mult-colored baubles for decorating. What a delight. I’ll never forget my amazement. And we never did miss the money that was spent for the decorations. Now, 52 years later, I still have three of the (slightly discolored) gold baubles and one of the multi-colored ones that I put on the tree every year to remind me of that special Christmas surprise. I enjoyed reading about your parents story so much!

  2. The first sentence, in the comment above, should have said “my eyes.” Sorry, I forgot to proof my comment. When my grandchildren helped decorate my tree this year, I shared the story of that first Christmas tree.

  3. Great story, I remember Christmases like that growing up. Time w/ family, popcorn garland, a cut tree off the farm, and the same old bulbs reused over and over again. Those were the days w/ family, friends, and great homemade food!



  4. What a touching story. My heart swelled with the love that was in the Christmas Tree story. Thanks for sharing.

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