Days until Christmas: 25.

It’s that time again. Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, my parents and I venture out the tree farm to pick their Christmas tree. Watching my mother roam the farm, holding the measuring pole next to each tree, I begin to see that it’s a delicate mathematical and philosophical process.

My mother enters the tree farm and grabs a pole that has lines marked at 6, 7, and 8 feet. In search of the perfect tree for her 7-foot space, she wends a path through the pines and the cedars, landing in front of the firs. She stands the pole up next to a bushy fir tree and makes the same proclamation that she does every year.

“They should lop off those pieces that stick out the top,” she says. “That’s not really eight feet of tree.”

It’s clear that my mother and the tree farmer measure height in two very different ways.

The tree farmer’s method, as one might generally assume, goes something like this:

h (height) = distance from bottom of trunk to uppermost needle on tree

In this photo, my mother is illustrating her measuring system. See how

she’s pointing at the goofy little spire that shoots out the top of the tree? She’s explaining to me that the height of the tree should not include this scrawny little sprout, and that it should be trimmed before its cataloging and sale.

Her equation is more like this:

h (height) = distance from bottom of trunk to the uppermost aesthetically balanced portion of tree

I laugh every year, of course, but I think she may have a point. Take, for instance, my 5’9 high school self, who had a bad case of 1980’s bangs. Would you consider me 5’9, or 5’9 plus the height of my hair? The doctor always wrote 5’9 on my chart, no matter how high the tidal bangs were. (And believe me, they were up there–we had contests.)

In the end, my mom settles on the “8 foot” tree. After she subtracts the height of the shoot (s) and the length of the trunk that my dad will trim to keep the tree fresh (L), she will end up with a tree that brushes her 7-foot ceiling:

farmer’s measurement – (s + L) = 7

Though she doesn’t approve of this compromise, it won’t stop her from moving the den furniture to make room for the tree. It won’t stop her from filling the branches with ornaments she’s collected for decades. It won’t stop my dad from flinging the tinsel onto the tree, leaving as much on the floor and in his hair as he gets on the limbs. And it won’t stop them from humming Christmas carols for the next twenty five days. What that tree brings into our home can’t be measured in feet and inches, anyway.