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Have yourself a good, old-fashioned family Christmas

Legendary family man Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase in the movie "Christmas Vacation," would be proud of the Christmas tree sitting in my living room.

He knew better than anyone that a good, old-fashioned family Christmas starts by finding that one special Christmas tree.

When Clark's son asked him why Christmas tree lots were invented, Clark proudly responded, "They invented them, Russ, because people forgot how to have a good old-fashioned family Christmas and are satisfied with scrawny, dead, overpriced trees that have no special meaning."

I'm not condemning Christmas tree farms and trees sold outside stores. From what I have seen in this area, they appear to be fairly priced and in good condition. But I have to agree with Clark Griswold that the Christmas spirit can be found while spending time with the ones you love, even while enduring unexpected circumstances in frigid temperatures.

Sunday afternoon, three weeks ago, was a beautiful day for finding a Christmas tree. Snowflakes the size of quarters fell at a slow pace over a white blanket of snow on the ground.

My husband, Ben, said he had found the perfect tree. After driving along windy roads through the woods we finally arrived. He knew this land well and had been given the OK to be on it.

The truck stopped just as the snow became too deep to go any farther. I was excited to see the tree Ben picked out for us. We hiked in the snow over a frozen bog and tried to avoid getting our hats taken off by aspen tree branches.

"There it is!" Ben said.

I looked. Scrawny little black spruce trees and a speckling of leafless deciduous trees stood before me.

"Where?" I asked.

"That big one. Look over there," he said.

"Big" was an understatement. Ben pointed to a 25-foot balsam fir towering behind the small black spruce trees in the foreground.

I looked at my husband with surprise. I saw in his eyes the reflection of golden rays shining down from the heavens over the tree he had found. It was like staring at Clark Griswold's face when he told his family, "There it is. The Griswold Family Christmas Tree."

I looked at the tree. There it was. The Williams Family Christmas Tree.

We hiked to the base of the tree. Its trunk looked to be eight inches in diameter.

"It's a little bigger than I thought it would be," Ben said, eyeing up the base.

I looked around, hoping to find a smaller tree, one better suited for our living room. There were none.

"It's not big; it's just full," I thought.

From his pocket, Ben took out a lightweight, collapsible saw blade, roughly five inches in length.

"Where's your hand saw?" I asked him.

"I didn't bring it. I didn't think we would need it," he said.

We had hiked too far and driven too many miles to return home. There was no turning back.

"You're going to attempt to cut this tree down with that?" I asked.

"It shouldn't take too much time," said Ben, the eternal optimist.

We were like beavers, chiseling away at the tree, taking turns circling the trunk with the tiny saw teeth. As the sun sank lower in the sky, somehow we managed to stay focused and keep cutting.

Ben cut out a notch in the tree, for safe measures. While one of us cut, the other pushed against the tree, urging it to break.

Did the Griswold family make the right choice, pulling out the entire tree from the ground instead of cutting it? Maybe, I thought. But we had no chain saw, darn it.

After 20 minutes of sawing, the tree came crashing down. We hugged each other in delight.

After cutting the tree to the length we needed, we dragged it through the snow, across the bog and through the aspen stands back to the truck. I had sap in my hair. Ben had sap on his hands. Pine cones rested on our heads and shoulders.

We loaded the seven-foot-tree top into the back of the truck and headed home. Our arms were sore, but we had found our Christmas tree. We left a part of the tree in the woods. I told Ben the coarse woody debris we left behind was our Christmas gift for the salamanders and woodpeckers.

After the tree was trimmed and shaken, it was set in its rightful place in our living room. What started as a Griswold Christmas tree was now a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Each morning we now wake to the smell of balsam fir radiating throughout the house. And each night we sit and watch the glow of the Christmas lights on the tree, particularly in the spots where needles were stripped off branches and where branches were torn off from the tree.

Clark Griswold said it best: "There is nothing quite like heading out into the country in the old front-wheel drive sleigh to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols."

I encourage everyone to go out and make some good, old-fashioned Christmas fun this year. Get out that old toboggan from the garage. Build a snow man in the front yard. Stick your tongue on a flag pole. OK, I was kidding on that last one. Just make sure whatever you do is safe and legal, but most importantly, puts a smile on someone's face and makes for good memories.