The holiday season brings on a lot of different emotions.

Often we reflect on the past year and count our blessings regardless of how the past 365 have been. Hey, it could always be worse.

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There's excitement.

The excitement of seeing old friends and meeting up with family again. We missed this last year.

Then there are the memories.

Personally, I have really fond memories of Christmastime.

Growing up, I was very fortunate to have a stable home with loving parents. This is something that I will never take for granted.

Memories can be difficult this time of year especially if you are missing a loved one.

Right before Easter in 2017, we found out that my Dad had aggressive liver cancer.

He was given no options for treatment and passed away on Memorial Day weekend. He was 66.

photo: Matt Ryan
photo: Matt Ryan

My Mom is a huge fan of Christmas. My Dad enjoyed it, but not as much as my Mom.

He would go along with the festivities for her. He would've done anything for her.

After my Dad passed we knew that the first Christmas without him was going to be difficult.

All of the "firsts" are.

We have always been a "real tree" family.

My Dad always took the reigns when it came to getting the tree in the house and setup. He loathed every minute of it.

It became a tradition. Dad spouted out every obscenity known to man while he and angled and maneuvered the tree to get it in the door.

Then there was getting the tree in the stand. That was fun.

After a couple of hours and sap and needles everywhere, the tree was ready to be decorated. That's when Mom came in.

After Dad died we had to adjust some traditions.

My brother and I went with my Mom to pick out a tree.

He and I would then get it in the house and set it up for my Mother to decorate.

We knew the first Christmas without Dad wouldn't be easy, but little did we know that someone was working his magic to make one particular part of Christmas a little easier than it had been in the past.

My Mom, my brother, and I went to the Christmas tree farm and the first tree that came into view was perfect.

I'm talking no trimming needed perfect.

Even the employee at the farm was kind of amazed at how we stepped out of the car and walked right up to this perfect tree.

When we got back to my Mother's house, my brother and I brought the tree into the house.

In the past, this was always quite the ordeal. Not this year.

This Christmas tree fit perfectly through the door.

Once we got it into the stand we stepped back a bit to see if it was even.

It was perfect. When do you ever get a tree to stand up perfectly on the first try?

Shockingly, during this entire process, not one needle fell on the floor. Not one.

My Mom went to work decorating the tree and when she was finished, we all just stared at it in amazement.

photo: Matt Ryan
photo: Matt Ryan

The height and dimensions were exact. This was the perfect Christmas tree.

Family and neighbors would come to visit and be puzzled as to why we went with an artificial tree.

Usually, by the end of the Christmas season with the best care, trees start to drop their needles everywhere as you get ready to undress it and say farewell to another Christmas.

While a few needles fell, this tree was in good health for the most part.

We joked that it would've stayed in good shape through the rest of the winter.

I'll admit that with most things I'm a skeptic.

I was particularly skeptical when it came to "signs" that Dad was with us in spirit after he passed.

This time though, I know he was helping us out and watching proudly as we kept a family tradition going while missing him dearly.

He wanted my Mother to have the perfect Christmas tree. She did that year.

I've never publicly shared this story because it made me sad to think about it.

Now, approaching our fifth Christmas without my Father, I look at our miraculous Christmas tree differently.

It doesn't make me sad. It makes me smile. It makes me remember that he is with us always. We don't see him, but we can feel his presence.

For that, I say, thanks, Dad.

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