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Slices of Life: Finding the holiday spirit from the branch of the Christmas tree
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It's the season of celebration. Happy holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or Festive Festivus - whatever your phrase of choice, it's a lovely time to celebrate and believe in miracles. People all around are joyous and giddy with cheer.

To further illustrate the magnificence of the holiday, ugly Christmas sweaters are back in style. Some of them even feature blinking lights.

What's not to love about an over-the-top time of year filled with electric sweaters, wrapped gifts, a tree in the living room, parties for hosting, candlelight, cookies, eggnog and fruitcake? It's exuberant celebration for the taking and making. There's only one problem. I wasn't feeling it this year.

I'll be honest; it comes from the pressure of trying to do it all. Have it all. Get it all done - from scratch - bigger and better than ever before.

To bake 14 varieties of cookies without gaining any holiday weight. To carve out time so the kids get to make the annual gingerbread house. To have a family night solely dedicated to watching "Elf." To find the ideal and desired items so everyone is shocked and awed by their gifts. To get the perfect family photo for the perfect card that perfectly illustrates the perfection of your family - without overt bragging or coming across like you think you are well, perfect. To wrap and decorate and trim and carol while (it goes without saying) you remain calm and bright and your heart is filled with the true meaning of the season.

It's overwhelming and I guess I was letting it show this year more than others. I was lacking in decoration motivation, cookie baking ability and overall holiday spirit. But my ho-ho-hopeful husband wasn't going to let my bah humbug mentality get the best of him. He suggested we go get a tree.

"You can pick it out and I'll do the rest," he said. "I'll put it up and decorate it. You won't have to do a thing."

Famous last words.

We did find a tree. It wasn't very tall or full but it had bark and branches. My husband propped it in its stand and tightened the bolts to stabilize the trunk. Our Charlie Brown sapling leaned to the left. We adjusted the bolts and straightened the sparse spruce. When my husband let go of the tree, it leaned to the right. We pulled and prodded and repeated the process. Still, our tree leans.

At least it hasn't toppled over - yet. (My husband's observation, not mine.)

"It wasn't meant to be straight," he said. "It looks good with a little lean in it. Gives it character."

Our youngest son contemplated the tree, cocking his head to the side presumably to make it appear straight. After about 30 seconds of scrutiny he said, "It's awfully small."

"That's because it doesn't have its lights yet," my glass-half-full husband told him. "Lights make a tree look bigger. Besides, size doesn't matter. It still smells like a tree." My husband took a deep breath through his nose. "Smell that?"

We all smelled the tree and had to agree it had a fine pine scent.

My husband looped one string of lights around from top to bottom and even I had to admit our little tree was looking brighter. He got the box of ornaments from the basement and we put them on one by one.

There was a baby girl ornament from 1991 commemorating our daughter's first Christmas. Another of Mickey ears reminded us of a trip to Disney World. Snowmen with the message "I love the USA" were from Christmas 2001. We hung a tiny cable car from the year my husband and I traveled to San Francisco. We found a framed ornament of a Labrador retriever puppy and remembered our dear dog. This will be our first Christmas without her. There were countless ornaments handmade by the kids over the years - each one a true treasure.

As we adorned the branches, I was glad my husband talked me into getting the tangle of greenery that is our tree this year. We don't have time to do all the things we wish we could to get ready for the holiday. We don't have the money to buy huge and tremendous jaw-dropping gifts. We might not get the gingerbread house made or picture perfect cards sent.

And that's okay, because we do have the things we really need. Right here. Hanging on the branches of our tiny tree.

- Jill Pertler's column appears Thursdays in the Times. She can be reached at