After I joined the campus ministry and moved into a five-bedroom Victorian in downtown San Jose with 11 brothers in 1992, my first Christmas away from my family was very special. Being brothers of one spirit, we were too poor to buy a Christmas tree. (That didn’t prevent them from charging $500 USD in long distance phone calls and fighting over who owed what on the 20-page bill each month.) Besides, no one had any Christmas decorations to put on a tree. One brother, a graphic artist, found a creative solution to our dilemma.
This brother drove up to the Santa Cruz Mountains above Silicon Valley to look for a Christmas tree. There are several Christmas tree farms that will let you cut down a tree, but I think you need to bring your own ax or saw to cut with. He went up there with nothing but a prayer. Several hours later he drove back with a tree tied to the top of his station wagon. He found it on the ground next to a 90-foot-tall tree struck by lightning in a recent storm that was missing its tree top.
Using a borrowed hack saw to cut off the charred stump and setting up an old cast-iron pot as a tree stand, he positioned the seven-foot-tall tree in the living room (the ceiling was ten-foot-tall). It was the ugliest Christmas tree I ever saw. The brothers and sisters had serious doubts about it being a Christmas tree. The wide boughs could each hold enough snow to wallop someone below if they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As for Christmas decorations, he emptied out the kitchen of all the pots and silverware that we weren’t using to hang on the tree with yarn and clear tape. Weird as it looked with pots, forks, knives and spoons hanging upside down from the branches like metallic icicles, it looked like a real Christmas tree and became the centerpiece of our white elephant holiday party. Everyone who saw it praised God for the miracle it was.
Since everything we could cook or eat with was hanging on the tree, we didn’t have a single argument over extra dirty dishes in the sink between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day.