I was cleaning out some files this week when I came across this story. It is one I wrote back when I wanted to be a children’s book author, over 20 years ago. It was written before I had ever been to a far-away land, or seen children without parents or homes. It never was published and has been sitting in the file since I wrote it in the 90s. I dusted it off and decided to publish it here. It is about an artificial Christmas tree that wants to be live. Merry Christmas!
Once, a long time ago, there was a special Christmas tree with a special heart, and while most Christmas trees don’t have hearts, this one was quite different from the others. The fact that he had a heart and he was also an artificial tree made him even rarer still. Perhaps it is that combination which makes this story so extraordinary.
His name was Frazier, it said so right on his box…Frazier Fir. You see, he was first taken out of his box many years ago in a department store. He was put in the front window and covered with tinsel and lights. No one had ever heard of an artificial tree back then. He was one of the first, a fact he was quite proud of. He stood tall and straight in the window as people stood and stared. What a strange sight…a plastic tree. The idea was laughable to many. Who had ever heard of such a thing?
However, in this town was a wealthy businessman named Jacob Michaels. Mr. Michaels was a forward thinker. When he saw Frazier in the window he just had to have him. He marched right into that store, bought Frazier and back into the box he went. Frazier didn’t like his box. It was dark in there and he felt all alone, not to mention squished. He had much preferred the store window to the cold dampness of this box. And with all the sliding and pushing he wasn’t at all sure what would become of him. He didn’t really understand what was happening.
But then, he smelled a glorious smell and felt warm heat when the box opened. Many people dressed in uniforms were peering into it. He was in a huge house and Mr. Michaels was announcing to his servants that this year they would have an artificial tree. All of their faces looked stunned, some even laughed under their breath. Mr. Michaels proceeded to pronounce that this would be the most glorious tree he had ever had. Even though he was quite smooshed in his box, Frazier tried to look as glorious as he could while Mr. Michaels spoke.
After this speech, the servants went to work putting Frazier together piece by piece. Before long, he was the grandest Christmas tree around. People would drive by the front window just to have a look at him. He was so tall and straight. His branches never drooped, his needles never fell off. He was so proud. He must be of great importance for all these people to make such a fuss over him. At the Michaels’ Christmas party he was all anyone ever talked about. All, that is, except for the children. They weren’t allowed to get near him at all, except for a quick photograph and to get their presents.
Frazier should have been a happy tree, but there was something bothering him deep inside. As he was being set up, the servants kept going on about his being artificial. As a matter of fact, so were the people at the party. Even the children, for a brief moment had talked about how he looked like a live tree, but he was just plastic. Frazier wondered what it felt like to be live. He took pride in his appearance, but he wanted more than that. He wanted to know what ‘live’ was.
One day Mrs. Michaels and her daughter Emily were discussing the difference between live and artificial trees. It seemed young Emily didn’t understand why her father would choose and artificial tree over a live one. Frazier strained every needle to hear what they were saying. And though he couldn’t hear everything, he was able to make out some important parts.
“Mother, what does artificial mean?” asked Emily.
“It means the tree isn’t alive. It’s fake…an imitation, it only looks like a tree on the outside, but inside it is made of metal and plastic,” replied her mother. “A live tree would have life. It would grow and change.”
“So live means to have life with a heart and feelings? For a tree, it has to have water and light?” asked Hannah.
“Yes, something like that.”
This seemed to satisfy the girl and she was whisked away to some activity or another. Frazier was unsure of how he felt about what he’d heard. Mainly, he wanted to learn more. He knew he was artificial, and now he understood what it meant, but he also knew how much everyone admired him. He felt secure and important in his new home. After all, he had many more decorations than when he was in the store. He even had lights that blinking on and off and all the latest ornaments.
Just as he was feeling very important something happened. He was taken down, put in his box and taken to the attic. He had a lot of time up there to think about being artificial. He began to think the latest ornaments and twinkling lights weren’t all that important after all. He remembered looking out the window at the live trees in the yard. It was true they never moved and not many people noticed them, but at least they were never put into a box in the dark. In the summer, it was so hot in the box Timothy thought his plastic would melt, and when the cold weather came, he thought his branches would snap right off.
For several years this went on…grand and glorious at Christmas time and in the box the rest of the time. Frazier had many years to think about being live. He watched from his window each year making observations of the trees in the yard. They grew. Their branches reached further each year. They had to have light and water. When the storms came their roots held them in place, but their branches waved wildly in the wind. Those roots fascinated him, since he didn’t have any of his own. They went deep and tapped into the source of life. Frazier was amazed and each year his curiosity grew.
Then one day, one of the servants came and moved his box from the attic. Seeing as it was only fall, Frazier was confused. Why was he being moved so early? When his box opened he found he’d been donated to a church yard sale with a sign that said, “Artificial tree $20.” A small boy named Tommy and his slightly older brothers, Nathan and Josh approached his box.
“Mommy, what is this?” Tommy asked.
“It’s an artificial tree. It looks like a real tree, but it doesn’t need water. That way you don’t have to buy a tree every year. It’s very practical.”
Frazier had gone from grand and glorious to practical. He felt sad. He didn’t want to be practical, or artificial, he wanted to be live. The Jones family bought Frazier. When he was taken out of his box in his new home he was surprised to find no servants to put him up, only Mr. and Mrs. Jones and their boys. The house was small and the decorations were mostly things the children had made. He had no fancy blinking lights, only plain ordinary ones. Frazier was disappointed at first. But as the season progressed, he became fascinated with his new home and family.
The first thing he noticed were the children. He’d never been around children much before. In his old home, children weren’t even allowed in the same room with him, much less to touch him. He found warmth when the boys hung their specially made decorations on him. He actually felt honored they would hang the ornaments they had worked so hard on, in his branches. His favorite time was in the evenings when Mr. Jones would read special Christmas stories to the children. Frazier heard many different wonderful stories.
There were many nights he listened, as hot chocolate and marshmallows and were enjoyed by all. He loved the laughter. He loved the sparkle in the eyes of the children. He saw what it meant to be alive in a new way by watching them, and at times, he almost felt live too.
On Christmas Eve, Mrs. Jones read the story of the Christ child to the children. Afterwards, she explained how Jesus was God’s way of showing how much he loves us. Frazier hadn’t heard this story before, but suddenly he understood that God’s love is what makes things live. He understood the life source he had always wondered about was what he was seeing in his new home. There was more to life than just growing and breathing…there was love.
Frazier hated to think of going back into his box. He was exhilarated with this new discovery of what live meant, and he wanted to enjoy the love all around him for longer. He wanted to experience it.
The time came and Christmas was over, but instead of putting him in his box Frazier was undecorated, wrapped in a blanket, and carried to the basement. Practical did have its advantages, like no more being stuffed in a box.
Each year there were new homemade ornaments and each year there were the stories. Frazier became content and happy with being practical. He felt the warmth around him with each passing Christmas, and though he knew he’d never be live, he was happy to be with those who were.
One day, from his spot in the basement, he heard voices upstairs. It seemed a missionary friend had come to visit. He told stories of children that didn’t know about God’s love. He told stories of children in a far-off land with no parents and no homes. A collection of donated items was to be sent to the far-away land to help. There were clothes, toys and whatever else people wanted to send.
Frazier was heartbroken for these children. He wanted to do something. There was a deep stirring in his heart. If only he could communicate, he would go to this far-off land and stand tall and show these children Christmas. At about that time, the door opened and the voices got louder. They were coming to see him. As his blanket was removed, he tried to stand as tall as he could and look glorious.
Truth be known, he was hopelessly ragged after years of use. He was in pitiful shape and he knew it deep down. But he also knew he had to do something…something live. He just had to show this love he had witnessed. He wanted to give himself away. He didn’t want to only observe love anymore, he wanted to participate in spreading it.
It was almost like a miracle to Frazier that day. The thing he wanted most, to be live, happened. He gave himself away. No one knew exactly how or why the Jones gave away their only Christmas tree. They felt the children needed it. The friend visiting knew they did. Frazier knew that even though he was still made of plastic and metal, he became live the day he gave himself away so that others could know the true meaning of Christmas.
Frazier, ragged and tattered was packed in his box and shipped with many large boxes of things to the far-away land. His journey took many days. He wondered with excitement about this new home of his. Would they like him? Would they come to understand what it means to be alive? So many questions yet to be answered.
We he was finally set up, there only a few decorations and no lights at all. There weren’t any big parties. But he didn’t need lights, because the children’s faces lit up the room. They had never seen such a thing. As the Christmas story was read out of the Bible, they understood. It was just as it had happened with Frazier. Their eyes sparkled with tears of understanding. Their hearts were deeply touched by the source of life, God’s love for us all.
As they danced around him, Frazier felt what it meant to be live in his heart. That day the true meaning of Christmas, God’s love come to Earth, was expressed through an old artificial tree in a far-away land. Frazier finally understood and felt the truth; outward appearance isn’t important, because being alive is all about the heart and receiving the love God offered. Being live is giving yourself away.