All the trees on the Christmas tree lot stood tall and straight and used the cold December wind to puff out their branches to help them look full. This was the most important time of the year for trees, the last night of that special season when people opened their doors and let these normally outdoor trees inside their warm, cozy homes.

People, bundled from head to toe in their winter clothes, passed by the toy soldier-like lineup of trees, touching, taking in the deep pine aroma, choosing just the right one for the traditional place of honor in their living rooms — the place where Santa Claus would deposit all those brightly wrapped gifts.

“This one! Oh, this one!” squealed a tot as she tried to throw her arms around the branches of a Colorado Blue Spruce.

“Hey, silly, you can’t hug a tree!” her brother laughed. The cloud from his warm breath danced on the cold night air.

“I don’t care,” she said, a lilt in her voice. “This is the tree I want. I love it!”

Her daddy smiled and kissed the top of his daughter’s head.

“OK, then. Let’s take a look,” he said, turning the tree around to inspect the back, which was perfect, and the sides, which were bursting with dark green limbs. He stood back, cocked his head, and declared, “You’re right, Lily. It is perfect. Mom will love it.”

He reached into his wallet and handed the attendant some money, picked up the tree, and headed off to the car, his happy children in tow.

“Hmpf. Perfect? I’m just as perfect as that overpriced Spruce,” the Noble Fir grumbled as it tilted its top branch down toward the empty space where the chosen tree once stood. “Even more perfect, in fact. It was lopsided, in case you hadn’t noticed. Far too many branches on one side. Very unattractive.”

The other trees nodded. “Some people don’t care what kind of tree they bring home,” said a Frasier Fir, bristling with jealousy.

“I…I thought it was beautiful,” a timid voice replied.

The trees glanced left and right, but they saw nothing.

“I hope someone thinks I’m beautiful,” the voice said again. “I’d love to be someone’s Christmas tree.”

“Who said that!” boomed the Leyland Cypress. “Show yourself!”

“I’m down here,” the soft voice answered, the sound coming from near the trunk of the seven-foot-tall Noble Fir. The wind rustled the branches of the trees just enough to allow the others to get a glimpse of a spindly tree, which was barely four feet tall and trembled in the brisk air.

“Good heavens! Do you really think that you could be a Christmas tree?” the Cedar scoffed.

The other trees snickered.

“Well…” the pint-sized Virginia Pine sniffed, “a tree can dream. Even a tiny tree like me.”

The other trees shook their branches and laughed.

“Have you ever heard such a thing?” The Scotch Pine snickered. “This scrawny shrub thinks it has what it takes to be a Christmas tree. A Christmas tree!”

“Absurd,” a festively flocked Balsam Fir chimed in, its tone laced with condescension.

“Enough about that puny pine,” the Noble Fir commanded. “Here come some shoppers. Put your best branch forward.”

The trees grew silent, straightened their trunks, and once again used the cold night air to puff up their branches to make them look full.

Dozens of merry shoppers made their way through the Christmas tree lot, examining each Pine, Fir, Cedar, Cypress and Spruce before making their selection.

One by one, each of the trees was plucked from the lot, tied to the top of a car, and was off on its holiday adventure…all but the scrawny little pine.

“What are we gonna do with this runt?” the burly man who worked on the lot said to his helper as he looked the pitiful little pine up and down.

“Just chuck it in the trash, Frank. It’s cold out here, and it’s almost eleven o’clock. Let’s go home. I’m beat.”

He yawned. “I can’t wait for Christmas to be over.”

And with that, they picked up the solitary tree and threw it next to a pile of broken branches and rock salt on the side of the road, turned off the festive string of lights that illuminated the lot, and climbed in their truck.

A pale beam from a streetlight cast a shadow on the sagging, sparse branches of the little tree as it watched the two men drive away. A snowflake floated down and landed on his spindly needles. Then another. Then another.

“It doesn’t matter,” the tiny tree sniffed. “It really doesn’t. Those other trees were right. I don’t know why I ever thought I was good enough to be a Christmas tree. I guess I was just kidding myself.”

Iridescent sap dripped from its limbs and fell like teardrops onto the cold ground.

The winter night became very cold, and the little tree began to shiver — and with each quiver more and more needles fell from his boughs.

“Brrr....I...wonder...how...long I ...have to...wait...until...the trash men ...ppppick me....uuup?”

The little tree waited, hoping for a gust of wind to blow him closer to the pile of discarded branches nearby so he could cuddle up with them and try to keep warm. Finally, whoosh! whoosh! a strong wind blew the tiny tree almost two whole feet. He nuzzled close to the broken limbs and drifted off to sleep.

Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! A clock clanging in the town not far away awakened the little tree. He counted 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 chimes.

“Midnight...It’s Christmas Day, and Santa has come and gone.” The little pine sighed. “Gee, just think of all those lucky trees... trees that are so much more perfect than I am... standing tall and straight, protecting toys and dolls and all kinds of special gifts in those nice warm homes. Gee, if I could have just one Christmas wish, I’d wish, I’d wish...”

Suddenly, there was a great whoosh! and then a thunk! thunk! so loud that it shook the ground.

“It must be the trash truck,” the little tree thought. “Well, at least I won’t be cold anymore.”

The sound of heavy boots on the cold, hard ground grew closer to the pile of broken branches where the little tree had been tossed and forgotten.

The little pine waited to be picked up and thrown in the back of the truck with the rest of the unwanted debris.

“Well, what have we here?” a jolly voice said, as a gloved hand lifted the little tree from its bed of broken branches and rock salt and stood it up on its trunk.

“No tree should be alone on Christmas!”

Why it wasn’t the trash man at all! It was...it was...Santa Claus!

The little tree stood as straight and tall as it could and waited for a cold wind to puff out its branches to help it look nice and full...but no wind came, and its sparse branches sagged. But Santa didn’t care. He didn’t care one smidgen.

“What a wonderful little tree,” Santa said as he slowly circled the tree. “So small, so sweet. So...perfect!” He picked up the little evergreen and held it up against the night sky. A pale beam of light from the streetlight made a halo around the very top of the tiny tree. Santa smiled and carried it over to his sleigh.

“I think you’ll look just splendid in my living room. Just splendid!”

And with that, Santa and his special, perfect Christmas tree soared off into the snowy winter night.

The End

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