How Not to Make the Season Bright

An expedition to cut your own tree can forge indelible Christmas memories. But indelible doesn’t necessarily mean good.

William Shunn
6 min readDec 24, 2021


A line of tall pine trees at night, with a starry, green-tinged night sky overhead.
Photo by Yun Xu on Unsplash

Some well-meaning people think that, if you’re down in the dumps at Christmas, there must be one magic bullet that will fix everything, one miraculous missing puzzle piece that will make the season complete if only they can force it into place for you.

Depression doesn’t work like that, but I had no way to explain that to Elder Dedman when he jumped up from the one armchair in our tiny basement apartment, full of crazed energy.

“Flip, Shunn, why are we sitting here talking?” he said. “It’s been a rotten day, this place is claustrophobic, and you could use some cheering up.”

The back of my neck crawled. “What do you have in mind?”

He looked around. “Well, here it is almost Christmas and we’re hardly in the spirit at all. Get your snow gear on. I think we need a tree.”

The year was 1986. Dedman and I were Mormon missionaries posted to Brooks, a colorless oil town on the wind-scoured plains of Alberta. I was nineteen and had been away from home just over three months. I missed everything about my life back in Utah. Church services earlier that day had been a painful reminder of everything I’d been forced to leave behind to come to this godforsaken place.

Drew Dedman had been on his mission for about a year, which meant he only had one more year to go. As the senior member of our companionship, he was responsible for setting the example for me of how a diligent proselytizer works. At this he was an utter washout.

I couldn’t really say he was failing as a missionary, because failure at least implies trying. Dedman didn’t even try. Instead of knocking on doors trying to convert the ten thousand benighted souls in this benighted berg, we spent our days bowling or shooting pool or hiking the Badlands or watching contraband movies on VHS. Anything but the sacred work we were sent to Brooks to do.

I had given up trying to convince Dedman to get with the program, even a little bit. If he felt any guilt about his slacker…



William Shunn

Writer, poet and puzzle maker. Hugo and Nebula Award finalist. Author of The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. He/him/Bill.