The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Gloria Houston, is a sweet story for the weeks leading up to Christmas, and it lends itself well to a study of the story element, theme.
The story is about Ruthie, a girl who lives in a small village in the Appalachian Mountains. It is her family’s year to provide the village Christmas tree, and Ruthie has been chosen to be the angel in her school’s Christmas play. Because her father is away fighting in World War I, Ruthie’s mother has no money, can’t buy the dress with wide sleeves that Ruthie needs to portray the angel, and there is a question of whether the village will have its Christmas tree this year. Ruthie is missing her papa, but then they get word that he will be home by Christmas. Day after day Ruthie watches for his return. In the meantime, Mama is very resourceful and makes Ruthie an angel dress from her own wedding dress. Mama and Ruthie hike up the mountain and cut down the Christmas tree themselves on Christmas Eve. Despite their difficulties, Ruthie, Mama, and the other villagers have a happy Christmas. And then on Christmas Day, Papa comes home.
There are a number of good themes for the holidays in this little story on topics including Christmas in the country, parents in the military, poverty, family, community, and joy. Here are a few that might lead to a good class discussion:
- the importance of passing down traditions
- finding ways to live happily despite a lack of money
- how families and communities come together to provide a joyous holiday
- facing difficulties and living peacefully in a time of war
Discussing the themes in this story could be the lead-in to some positive holiday activities as well. Here are just a few ideas:
- Have students choose one theme and use it as the basis for a verse that they present in a holiday card with their own drawings or a little collage of holiday images on the front.
- Decorate a class tree with ornaments made by the kids that each represent a tradition from their own family.
- Collect materials from discarded items and have kids recycle them into creative gifts.
- Have students present a holiday play or a pageant with traditional holiday songs including the two that Ruthie and Mama sang on the mountain.
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