Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Christmas (04/25/05)
- TITLE: O Christmas Bush
By Angela Ranson
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It was a bush. Short, squat, with long creepy needles that didn't smell right. It was green...sort of...but a faded, pathetic green that didn't even look real. And it was stuck in a metal bucket of reddish-brown mud that was slowly leaking onto the old shag carpet. It was the worst Christmas tree I had ever seen.
My sister and two brothers stood in the center of the room and stared at this bush that Mum was wrestling into the corner. It was the second Christmas after my father had left, and nothing seemed to be getting better. Our large home had become a tiny basement apartment - two bedrooms for five people. Santa was going to have to come into the house from the apartment upstairs, because we had lost our fireplace. Our Christmas dinner was going to be quite a bit smaller. And Mum had already warned us that Santa couldn't bring as many gifts as he once had.
We were young - I was twelve, the oldest, and the youngest of us was six - and to us Christmas meant candy and gifts and a pretty tree. It felt like Christmas was being taken away little by little, and this was the last straw. My little brother slipped his pudgy hand into mine and tugged. I looked down into his big brown eyes and then bent down to hear him as he whispered, "I don't think any presents can fit under there."
I looked at the bush again and a lump formed in my throat. He was right. The branches reached up, swarming around this center stick, and they started just inches off the ground. "Mum," I said. "Where did that thing come from?"
Mum huffed out a breath and shoved the bucket farther back. Mud slopped out over the rim. "Richard from the church gave it to us. He wanted...well, he thought it would help us out with Christmas expenses."
"It's ugly," my sister said.
"There's nothing wrong with it," Mum said, an edge sharpening her voice. She stepped back and sighed when one of the needles snagged her sweater. It took her a moment to untangle the hideous thing.
"Yes, there is," I said. "It's awful. Mum, it's awful."
"It doesn't even look like a tree," my sister said.
Mum stepped forward, and touched the needles once with her small, reddened fingers. Then, to our surprise, she hauled the whole thing out of the bucket and threw it up onto the table. It slid the length of the table, scattering needles and mud everywhere. "I thought this would do," she said, and her voice cracked horribly, "but if it's not good enough I'll find something else."
"That's not it, Mum," I said. "It's just that it's a bush, it's - "
Mum raised her hand, her lips pressed tight together. A single tear escaped and trickled down her cheek. "I'll go get something else."
I wish I could say that the four of us repented and accepted the hideous bush as our tree instead, but we were real kids and it was a really ugly bush. We did work very hard to get the new tree set up and the house decorated, trying to help Mum as much as we could. The interesting thing about this is how the Christmas Bush has become one of our favorite (and most entertaining) family stories. We remember that Christmas as one of our best, for by working together to make up for that bush we learned what joy comes from the real Christmas - the one behind the tinsel and the gifts. By losing our house we realized that you don't need a house to be a family. By losing the fireplace we placed more emphasis on the Christ child than Santa Claus. By having fewer gifts, we found we gave more away. And even now, almost twenty years later, we still gather as a family and sing our special version of an ancient hymn - "O Christmas Bush."
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