How to find your Christmas tree // Baraboo family photographer

First you go to the field north-west of town, where you’ve gone for the past five years. The place where the property owners say, “Please, come take my jack pines. They are the weeds of the prairie.” And you say, “Thank you very much. We will make one of them our own.”

You bundle up the kids and dig out the hand saw, you make a play list that is just the right balance of Motown and Brenda Lee and Raffi, and the Christmas spirit moves you to load everyone up into the car.

On the way there your 9-year-old son will say, “I hope we find some good bones this year,” remembering last year when Mama scored an awesome piece of deer jaw bone near the tree you chose, just laying there for the taking, which the then-8-year-old placed with pride on his bookshelf. It’s not often you find collectible animal remains on the Menards tree lot.

When you get there you will step out of the car and survey the paths you can take into the woods.

Now at this point, looking at the acres of pines before you, you will begin to feel like there is a choice to be made. But that is the fallacy of the wild Christmas tree. Because in actuality they are all equally awful, by American Christmas Tree standards.

They are scraggly, to put it generously. Their limbs, having never been subjected to the harsh judgment of a trimmer, stretch up and out and down at random intervals. They have bare branches, gaping holes, flattened sides.

But you will pass many of them by, walking deeper into the woods as twilight approaches, your husband pleading, “For God’s sake, just pick one,” until finally you do.

The kids will take turns sawing its trunk, you will drag the sad specimen back to your car, turn up the Motown-Brenda-Lee-Raffi and head home.

I will warn you now: when you first see your tree righted in its stand in the corner of your living room, you will instantly feel a pang of sadness and regret. Do not worry, and whatever you do, do not trim it. Trimming it will only bring its many flaws and bare spots to the visual forefront, and I speak from experience here.

Instead — and this is key — you must embrace your tree’s wonkiness and eccentricities, and let go of any expectations you had about your Christmas tree.

When you do, you will find it easy to embrace that attitude about everything about the holidays. You yourself can be a little wonky, and that’s okay. You don’t need to buy a lot of gifts. You don’t need to make the perfect Christmas cookies or the most creative crafts with your kids. Your proverbial branches can be pointing in every direction, and that’s fine. You’re fine. You’re perfect, in fact.

Your kids will enthusiastically decorate your crazy tree and they will never once comment about its flaws, because that’s all in your head and kids don’t care about perfection like you do. They care about the experience, and from the tromping through the woods to the trimming of the tree, you’ve given them a pretty good one.

When it’s finished they will light it up and step back with pride to survey their work. Your 4-year-old will say, “Now DAT’S what I call a Christmas tree,” and you’ll have no choice but to agree.