Once there was a beautiful evergreen growing in the deep, dark forest. It grew straight and tall, and its branches hung just so. The needles were soft, thick and dark green, and each branch had little pine cones tucked here and there. It grew for several years in the deep, dark woods until it was of a certain age.
Then one day a man came into the woods. The air was silent as he walked through the deep snow covering the ground. The man looked at every tree growing there, and his eye fell on the evergreen that had grown so straight and tall.
"You'll do just fine," he said.
He walked around it several times, and then he took up his axe and with several swift chops, chopped through the thick trunk. The evergreen tilted, then fell with a soft "swoosh" into the deep snow.
The man hefted his axe on his shoulder, and grabbing the evergreen's trunk with his other hand, dragged it slowly through the snow out of the woods.
OUT OF THE WOODS
All along the way, the branches of the tree left long marks in the snow, erasing the footprints of the man who dragged it to his home. As the tree was bumped and jostled along, it lost many of the pine cones that had hung from its branches.
As the man pulled the tree out of the woods, it left a soft trail in the snow, with pine cones falling here and there. Soon the snow drifted into the woods, and the trail and the pine cones were covered with soft new snow.
The tree was taken to the man's home. There his wife met him, and with a finger to her lips, she led him into the largest room in the house. It was late, and the children of the house were sleeping. Quickly the man and his wife put the tree into a stand. Then they brought out boxes of ornaments and boxes of lights, and put them all over the tree.
The tree was so beautiful, standing there in the corner of the room. The woodsman and his wife set presents beneath the tree and went to bed. The tree stood in the corner in the darkness, until morning.
Christmas Day came, and the children were awed with the beautiful tree and the wonderful presents lying underneath. They played all day beneath it, the train going around and around the trunk, the doll's bed rocking back and forth beneath the branches.
Christmas Day came and went, and the children still played beneath the tree, only now brown needles were beginning to fall on the train tracks and into the doll's bed.
When New Year's Day came, the tree was no longer the thickly boughed evergreen the man had found in the forest. Now it was dried and old. The ornaments and lights were taken off. The tree was dragged out of the house, leaving a trail of brown needles and tinsel behind.
The woodsman leaned the bare-branched tree against the garden fence. The children came out with
suet cakes and berries, tying little net packages to the bare branches of the tree. It wasn't long before the birds of winter found the gaily-decorated tree.
The woodpeckers and flickers came first, then the nut-hatches and blue jays and cardinals. The tree was again the center of attention, as the branches were filled with birds coming to dine.
One night a snowstorm came, and the wind blew the tree over and rolled it along to the edge of the woods, near a pile of brush. In the morning, it was hard to tell which was the bare tree and which was the pile of brush.
The children were sorry the tree had vanished-they didn't see it hidden beneath the snow and the bushes--but a wandering deer found it a good place to hide by for the night, and afterwards a family of mice made the hidden hollow created by the tree their home.
Spring came and the snow melted. The mouse family left when their winter house filled with water. The tree was now broken and bent, only the trunk still strong. The children came out to play when the snow had melted. They found the trunk of the tree and dragged it around the grass, playing games.
First the trunk was a pony, and they pretended to ride it. Then the trunk was a mast for a ship and they played pirates. Then the children broke up the trunk into several pieces, so each one could have a toy to fashion.
The mother called the children to dinner, and they ran in, dropping their pieces of wood. As the man came back to the house, he saw the pieces of wood lying on the grass.
"You'll do just fine," he said, picking up the pieces and carrying them into the house. He laid them in the fireplace and struck a match. The pine caught and crackled, burning brightly.
GONE BUT NOT GONE
As the family sat eating dinner by the glow of the fire, the children all sighed to remember how Christmas was gone, and they had a whole year to wait for Christmas to come again.
"Gone, but not gone," said the man, winking at his wife.
The children looked puzzled, so the man explained,
"If you close your eyes, you can remember every Christmas. You can see every one clearly as often as you wish, even though it isn't there before you-- just as if you close your eyes you can see the tree standing in the corner, all aglow and glittering as it first was for Christmas Day."
"The seed of Christmas is in your heart, and it grows just as straight and tall as our tree did,"his wife added.
"And somewhere in the forest, new trees are growing, waiting for other Christmases,"he said.
"Truly?" asked the children.
"Truly!" said the man.
Down in the woods, under a full moon, a hundred little seedlings stood straight and tall. They had sprouted from the spring mud where the pine cones had fallen last winter.
Gone, but not gone, the tree left the gift of itself-new seedlings ready to grow tall and straight and beautiful-- ready for many Christmases to come. Truly.
May your every Christmas-- past, present and to come, be filled with joy, love and peace.
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