Tragedy struck my miniature Christmas village when three of the inhabitants fell out of the Styrofoam and shattered on the hardwood. Besides this needless loss of life, it was a bad omen for Christmas. The victims had been a young couple hauling a tree home from the lot and a young man strolling off with a wreath. I replaced them with a middle-aged couple who – due to the economic downturn – were at the lot, but just looking.

After receiving this sign to not buy a Christmas tree this year, I learned my brother-in-law had an excess of pine trees on his property. You see, my late father-in-law had planted a pine every time a grandchild was born. Some of these trees are big enough to fill Daley Plaza, so we decided to take down the youngest (sorry Trent) for our Christmas tree.

We had cut down a tree years before at an Indiana nursery. All the newborns looked alike to me but my wife had trouble choosing one. It was bitterly cold, so I handed the saw to my wife and retreated to the van. Unfortunately, she cut the trunk high up, so the tree lacked a stump to stick into the stand. After I trimmed enough branches to restore the stump, it was down to Charlie Brown size.

I didn’t want this mistake repeated so, when I sent my wife and youngest daughter to take down Trent’s tree, I told them to cut as close to the ground as possible. Nicole lay on the snow, slicing away with a handsaw. The trunk was so thick, though, a chainsaw was needed before they could yell “timber!”

On the way home, the tree shifted and started to fall off the roof. They pulled into a cemetery to re-tie it. Wouldn’t you know, it was the cemetery where the pine-tree planter himself is buried.

When the rest of us saw the tree, we wondered if we could get it into the house. Somehow, my son Joe yanked it through the doorway and got it into the stand. Usually, my wife can’t wait to decorate but this tree was such an enormous challenge, it stood bare for several days. I couldn’t figure out how she was going to wrap lights around it, and I planned to be far away when she tried.

It took 500 bulbs to illuminate the tree and we had it decorated just in time for the Ricefest holiday party. My family members were amazed. It was the largest dead tree they’d ever seen inside a house. They also appreciated the significance of the tree and that we got it for free.

The moral of this Christmas story is, if you see a bad omen this season and money seems too tight to buy a tree, don’t despair. You can choose among the pines in my brother-in-law’s backyard. If I were you, I’d cut down Mark’s tree. He’s only 13.