Early Christmas Eve morning, 12-year-old Annabelle Cunningham sprang from bed and ran into the living room.
“Dad, it’s time to get a Christmas tree!” she said at the top of her lungs, hanging her stocking by the fireplace.
Her mother had been in the kitchen baking all morning and would be there all day.
“I don’t want to spend the money. We don’t need a Christmas tree,” her father said, drinking eggnog in his armchair. “Christmas is only one day. I already arranged my Santa Clauses on the living room shelf. That’s enough decorating.”
Her father’s obsession with Santa had started years ago, and he owned every Santa in the county. He had short and tall Santa’s with big tummies, small tummies, red coats, green coats, sacks, and sleighs.
“Yes, we will get a Christmas tree and decorate it, whether you want to or not!” Annabelle said.
“Fine, fine, but the Christmas tree is coming down the day after Christmas–lights and all,” her father said.
“Try to remember that your father never had Christmas growing up,” Annabelle’s mother whispered to her. “He doesn’t know how to celebrate it. Now just go get a Christmas tree and try to be kind to him.”
Annabelle threw on her winter jacket, wool hat, and boots, and headed to her father’s green pick-up truck. As she waited for her father in the front seat, she admired her mother’s red and green holly bushes.
Earlier in the week, Annabelle had hung a wreath on the front door and strung garland on the porch. Her father meandered to the truck with his brown jacket, slammed the door shut, and started the engine.
“The truck probably won’t make it to the Christmas tree farm,” her father said, pulling out of the driveway. “The roads are slippery. I spent all morning shoveling the snow from the driveway, and you never know when you’ll hit ice.”
Annabelle hummed “O Christmas Tree” to herself on the car ride, ignoring her father’s humbug. “That’s my tree!” Annabelle said, jumping from the truck as her father pulled up to the Christmas tree farm. She pointed to the largest Christmas tree in the lot and ran to its side in knee-high snow.
“How did I let you talk me into this?” her father said, shaking his head as he got out of the truck. He swung an axe over his shoulder and kicked the snow with his feet as he walked toward Annabelle.
“Timber!” her father yelled as he swung at the base of the tall, plump evergreen tree.
“Let me help you with that!” said the manager of the Christmas tree farm. He wore heavy work gloves.
As the tree fell on its side, he grabbed the trunk and pulled it all the way to the pick-up truck on a sled.
“I can’t believe you made me cut down a Christmas tree!” Annabelle’s father said, handing the manager a wad of cash. The manager threw the Christmas tree on the back of the pickup truck and tied it down with ropes.
“Scrooge was visited by three ghosts because he was so stingy,” she said to her dad, climbing in the front seat. Annabelle hummed “O Christmas Tree” all the way back to her house, remembering Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
When Mr. Cunningham stopped in the driveway, Annabelle swung open her door and ran to the evergreen.
“I’m going out back to chop wood for the wood stove. Two days from now I’ll be chopping your tree,” her father said.
“This will be the Christmas tree that lives forever!” Annabelle called to him, climbing on the back of the truck. “My beautiful evergreen Christmas tree is not going to burn in your stupid wood stove in the basement!” she said.
“Oh, let me help you with that, honey,” Annabelle’s mother said, walking out the front door with her gardening gloves. Annabelle and her mom pulled the tree into the living room and propped it up on its side until they attached a tree stand.
Then Annabelle watered the tree stand and carefully arranged the red tree skirt at the base of the evergreen. As she strung caramel popcorn and cranberries through a needle, she watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on TV.
“Sam the Snowman saves Christmas!” she said, singing along to “A Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Silver and Gold.”
“I feel like I’m saving Christmas,” Annabelle said, eating a few more popcorn than she strung on the string.
By dinnertime, Annabelle had perfected her Christmas tree with every type of decoration imaginable. She hung toy soldiers, Christmas balls, snowflakes, tinsel, angels, white and colored lights, and a star on top.
The Christmas tree stood proud and tall all Christmas Eve day and Christmas Day without losing a limb. It hovered over presents as they were wrapped and unwrapped and re-wrapped to give away to someone else. Of course, Annabelle would never give a Christmas gift away, but Mr. Cunningham was another story.
Since he was too stingy to buy Christmas gifts in the first place, he re-wrapped presents given to him to give away. One year, Mr. Cunningham re-wrapped the gift that Annabelle gave him to give back to her—a singing reindeer head.
She felt sad that her dad didn’t keep the gift and hid it under her bed for the annual holiday season. Since the singing reindeer head could be programmed to say anything, Annabelle had it greet her neighborhood friends. Similar to the Christmas tree, her father thought the reindeer made too much noise and frequently took out its battery.
“I’m throwing the Christmas tree in the wood stove first thing tomorrow morning,” her father said, turning off its lights.
“You are not burning my Christmas tree to a pulp!” Annabelle said, throwing up her hands. Then her father moaned, grabbed his axe, and went in the back yard to chop wood until his hands bled. Her mother went into the kitchen to bake another pie or cake or cookies for the neighbors.
“I’m going to save Christmas once and for all,” Annabelle whispered to herself after her parents left the room.
Early the next morning, before her father woke up, Annabelle carried the tree into the front yard. She planted the Christmas tree with all its decorations right in front of the house for everyone to see.
Then she ran an extension cord from the garage to plug in the shining Christmas lights.
“Snow will water you until it rains,” Annabelle said to the Christmas tree, watching the neighbors gather round.
“Are you kidding me?” Mr. Cunningham said, walking out the front door with his axe.
“Put the axe away!” the neighbors said to Mr. Cunningham. “It’s only the day after Christmas.”
“The electric bill to light this tree is going to be enormous!” Mr. Cunningham said, slamming the door.
“It’s going to be Christmas all year long, and that’s the only way it’s going to be!” Annabelle said. Her father sighed, looked at her and the neighbors in utter disbelief, and went back inside the house.
From then on, Annabelle decorated her evergreen as the seasons changed throughout the year. She hung glass hearts at Valentine’s Day, four-leaf clovers at St. Patrick’s Day, Easter eggs at springtime, American flags at the Fourth of July, Jack-O-Lanterns at Halloween, and Turkeys at Thanksgiving. Annabelle celebrated Christmas all year long, and so did her Scroogey father, even if he didn’t like it.
Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters
Dedicated to my dad, John Waters, who likes to drink eggnog, read Dickens, collect Santa Clauses, plant Christmas trees in the front yard, and re-gift singing reindeer heads.