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Dec 01

Magically decorated trees along highways make us smile (Local traditions of Christmas – Part 1)

Buddy: “It looks like a Christmas tree” – from the 2003 movie ‘Elf’

On more than one occasion, I wrote in this column about the Christmas decorations that magically appear about this time of year on forlorn little cedar trees along Interstate 70 in eastern Jackson County.

It is a tradition.

Shiny garland and simple homemade decorations suddenly adorn these modest, ordinary cedar trees that we really don’t notice the rest of the year.

Come Christmas season though, that changes. At the first sighting each year, we marvel at the awesome sight and begin to wonder who decorates them and why. How do they do it without being seen, and who are those people, we ask?

Could there be several folks who individually decorate random trees just for the pleasure of surprising others and spreading Christmas joy?

Last year, I commented in this column that these lonely, scraggly evergreens remind me of Charlie Brown’s forlorn little tree featured in the classic television special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, first aired in 1965.

I bet you remember this scene.

After Linus and Charlie Brown discover the little tree standing alone in the woods:
Charlie Brown: This little green one here seems to need a home.
Linus Van Pelt: I don’t know, Charlie Brown. Remember what Lucy said? This doesn’t seem to fit the modern spirit.
Charlie Brown: I don’t care. We’ll decorate it and it’ll be just right for our play. Besides, I think it needs me.

Yes, indeed, someone out there knows our needs and seems to know how much we hurried passersby long to see these brightly decorated, sweet little trees. Maybe they need us, too.

Interestingly, the phenomenon is happening elsewhere as well. Last December, I quoted an AP story that noted the same thing was happening in New Jersey: “An annual Christmas mystery is playing itself out again along a busy New Jersey highway,” the article explained. “A secret Santa is once again surreptitiously hanging ornaments from a large pine by the side of the Garden State Parkway in the dead of night.”

And now, this headline from the online ‘Arizona Republic’ jumps out at me as I read the morning news. It proclaims: “Humble tree captures spirit of Christmas” (along Interstate 17 near Milepost 254 between Phoenix and Flagstaff).

In the story, Tom Foster, a retired engineer from Arizona’s Department of Transportation, says that he knows who is behind the decorating of this lone, cheery but rather rotund juniper. The story notes that the tree “doesn’t seem to have any noteworthy values. It is shaped more like a huge tumbleweed than a pointy-topped holiday pine or spruce.”

However plain it may be, it cheerily greets travelers sporting big red bows, giant cardboard candy canes, paper snowflakes and stars, and bright garland.

“It may be elves,” Foster suggests.

Elves? Could that be who ‘the Secret Santa’ is that decorates the cedars on I-70 in western Missouri?

However, dear readers, I am sorry to say there is one disclaimer to this story.

So far this year, no magically decorated Christmas cedars have appeared. I am watching and waiting to be enthralled like thousands of other motorists.

Where are they, I worry.

The sweet and simple decorations bring joy to harried souls, and for the briefest moment, surprised motorists believe in the magic of things that cannot be seen and in the wonder of it all.

At the very least, the decorations make us smile.

I miss them terribly and if it weren’t for my arthritic knees I might climb those highway banks myself in the dark of night.

Realistically speaking, I must leave this task to the more athletic among us, or find an elf.

Come to think of it, some of those trees are close to the outer road and technically doable for ‘elves’ with bad knees.

I wonder.

Buddy, can you help me?