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How did your life collide with the headlines in 2007?
Iraq, the subprime crisis, Facebook, immigration, oil prices - 2007 had no shortage of hefty headlines. We'd like to hear about how these and other major news events of the past year affected you. Where did your life collide with the news in 2007?

What's your holiday performance story?
The office talent show, the neighborhood caroling posse, the school pageant ... At holiday time we often sing, dance, and dress as shepherds. Did you bloom in the warmth of your audience's adulation, or freeze up like the snowman you'd rather be building? Did your holiday performance change your life or that of someone close to you?

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Seattle's Charlie Brown Tree December 01, 2007E-mail this story E-mail this story
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The Tree
The Westlake Center Christmas tree is the Christmas tree in Seattle. It's like the Rockefeller Center tree for the Northwest. But this year's sapling is ugly. Really. Donated by Weyerhauser, a northwest timber company, the Douglas-fir arrived with its top missing and many branches broken off. It was instantly dubbed "the Charlie Brown tree," and town set out to make it better through glue, sweat and tears. Even in the Charlie Brown special, the tree ends up being filled out before being deemed virtuous. Weekend America's John Moe wondered why we refuse to accept the unusual tree as it is.

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by John Moe

There are all sorts of places to get Christmas trees near my house in Seattle. The Safeway down the street sells them in the parking lot. It's run by the Boy Scouts or a school or something. But my favorite place is way out in North Bend, 35 miles away: Christmas Creek Tree Farm. I was there this week as some early shoppers were driving away with their freshly cut trees.

Jan McDonald doesn't want me to use her age but she's not young. She's come up every year for the last 20 years to help out her sister and her brother-in-law who own the farm, but the rest of the year she's an Elvis Presley tribute artist in Las Vegas and Hawaii. She doesn't perform as much in Vegas since her preferred casino was imploded. See, you have the Christmas tree tradition and then you have something a little unusual - Jan. Tradition plus variation equals fun. Tradition without variation is just tedious ritual. Tedious rituals kill Christmas. Everyone knows that. And while they have those traditional 7-foot conical trees at Jan's place, that's not all they have.

"I would say there are some trees that really are kind of weird looking. And if we had Charlie Brown out here we could pick out quite a few," she said. "Like this one's got space right here. Like the top and then there's a big space with nothing there and it's got a long stem. That's kind of a Charlie Browner. And look at that little one, that's weird."

The Charlie Brown Christmas tree. You've seen the special on TV, right? Charlie Brown is once again battling clinical depression. Ousted as director of the Christmas play, he's demoted to the task of finding a tree for the play, picks a small weird looking one, is cruelly mocked by his peers. Then Linus talks about Jesus and the tree is decorated and suddenly everyone's okay with the tree and with Charlie Brown because children are capricious and easily swayed. But while Charlie Brown is still the same kid, his depression bound to return, the tree is transformed. The now-friendly children steal some ornaments from Snoopy and suddenly the tree is fully branched, conical and worthwhile.

Well, the story of a Charlie Brown Christmas is playing itself out here in Seattle this year.

"This tree is from our Mt. St. Helens tree farm which is down in Southwest Washington," said Frank Mendezabel of the timber company Weyerhaeuser. This year, as they have for the past three, they donated a huge Douglas Fir to downtown Seattle's Westlake Center. In the Northwest, where trees grow, you'd think it would be a real champ of a tree.

"But like all trees and all wild trees, they're not perfect," Frank said. "They all have slight differences between them. So when the tree arrived at Westlake Center, the feeling was that the branches and what became the bottom of the tree after several feet of it were trimmed off, that they were a little sparse."

The tree was sparse and raggedy. It didn't look like a Christmas tree. It immediately became known as the Charlie Brown tree. Citizens of Seattle rose up in protest like so many Lucys, Schroeders and those other kids in Peanuts whose characters were never all that well defined. So did some blockhead screw it up?

"I don't think anybody screwed it up," Frank said. "It's a wild tree from the woods, it was a 92-foot tree. It was never grown or intended to be a Christmas tree. I personally like the more sparse style. That's the kind we usually have in our house."

Rosso Wholesale Nursery in Seattle was already contracted to decorate the tree. But as soon as he saw it, Jerry Rosso knew he'd be working overtime. "It was a disaster," he recalled. "There was a lot of broken branches on the side because when they cut the tree they cut it like a regular forest tree that would fall over. When it fell over a lot of the branches broke on one side and the top broke. We had to drill holes and plug it. When you plug it, you drill a hole in there and then you get a branch of the same type of tree. And then you stick it in there and you nail it in there so it won't come out."

Jerry's job was to make it look like all the other trees so it could be beautiful. In Christmas trees, uniformity equals beauty. And sure enough after they got done appending branches to its denuded trunk, the outcry over the Westlake Center Charlie Brown tree went away.

But why do we see something as beautiful, as exceptional really, when it is merely average? That's not beauty. It's mediocrity. Am I the only one who appreciated Cinderella's earthy rough-hewn good looks before the Fairy Godmother stepped in and made her look like everyone else at the ball? Am I the only one bothered that the Ugly Duckling had to, in fact, change species (become a swan!) before being deemed beautiful? Why couldn't she have just grown up to be a big interesting duck?

Back at Christmas Creek Tree Farm, this is the first full weekend of business. Families in minivans showing up. Weird trees waiting. "Mostly it's the kids," says Jan Peterson. "[They say] 'Hey Dad, I want this. Because no one's going to buy it so we'll get it.' But you know people, they always want something perfect."

Jan spots another tree that doesn't fit the classical mold, "There's one that's really gonna have problems. This is a little short stubby tree with a little thing sticking up. And it's kind of spreading out, looks like a mushroom. But I wouldn't mind putting that in my house."