Throughout the mall, there are Christmas trees of all colors and sizes. Some are elegant, and some are colorful. Some are tiny, and some stretch almost to the ceiling. But in my house, there is a tree of a different sort. It’s not grand, like the tree that sits behind Santa in all those mall photos. Nor does its branches spread “just so” in even formations. This is a Thanksgiving tree. Beautiful, it is not. But beauty is what it represents.

Throughout the mall, there are Christmas trees of all colors and sizes.

Some are elegant, and some are colorful. Some are tiny, and some stretch almost to the ceiling.
But in my house, there is a tree of a different sort.

It’s not grand, like the tree that sits behind Santa in all those mall photos. Nor does its branches spread “just so” in even formations.

This is a Thanksgiving tree. Beautiful, it is not.

But beauty is what it represents.

We made our Thanksgiving tree on a blustery November afternoon, when the kids and I headed to the woods behind our house in search of some branches that had otherwise been disregarded for the winter. We pulled them from the trees and — as I envisioned their little eyes getting poked out by the sharp branches every step of the way — headed back to the house.

There, we put our branches in a pot and filled it with rocks. We cut out construction-paper leaves and got to work decorating our tree with the names of all of the things we are thankful for.

Now, explaining thankfulness to really little kids is a chore much more difficult than dragging branches into the house or cutting out paper leaves. The older one understood the idea of thinking about things that make him happy. In his world, that included restaurants, trains and grandma.

My daughter, who is not yet 2 years old, doesn’t quite get the idea of thankfulness or happiness.

So we just went with the words she can say — since, presumably, those things are the most important to her. So her leaves included juice, cats and mama. I felt a tad self-important with that last one.

Our tree, with its leaves Scotch-taped “just so” to the branches, was then perched on the kitchen window for all to admire for the duration of November.

And truly, I had no idea we were so en vogue with the preschool set until I read about a Thanksgiving tree on one friend’s blog and had another friend walk into my kitchen and say, “Hey, is that your Thanksgiving tree?”

It warmed my heart to know I wasn’t tromping around those cold woods alone.

One friend said her son put “bologna sandwiches” on his thankful leaf. Someone else, whose son is considerably older and whose I.Q. clearly surpasses my own, had her kid write “Jupiter” on his leaf – because without Jupiter, the Earth would be destroyed by meteors and asteroids.

This project, which I’m sure each mom started as a way to enforce a spirit of thankfulness for the upcoming holiday, has shown to be a wonderful glimpse into our children’s hearts. Where we adults come up with the logical things — a warm house, food on the table — a child’s choice is far more innocent and precious than that.

Kids have a way of appreciating even the most basic things in life — whether it’s going out to dinner or just the fact that we have a planet to live on.

And so, this Thanksgiving, that’s what I’m thankful for most of all: the wonder and fascination of a spirit unbroken.

Contact Elizabeth Davies at edavies@rrstar.com.