It was Secret Santa Season of my senior year, when I trudged up the stairs of my high school with my igloo-sized coat and my three hundred pound backpack. I opened my narrow locker door to put my things away when I discovered a Christmas tree had been shoved into my locker.  This was no new-age, dwarf, miniature, genetically-engineered, baby version of a Christmas tree.  This was a full-sized, old-fashioned, cut from the woods Christmas tree.  There wasn’t one smidgeon of room in that locker for anything except the Christmas tree.  My Secret Santa had really outdone herself. 

Almost instantly, gawking, smiling teenagers surrounded me.  There was nothing to do but laugh.  Cramming a Christmas tree into a high school locker is a feat requiring a combination of high caliber engineering, pig-headed determination, brute strength, an incredible sense of humor, and that high school idealism which still believes anything is possible. 

So I did what any kid who gets a present does.  I opened it.  I tugged… and tugged.  The branches snagged on the rim of my locker, but little by little I dragged that Christmas tree out of the locker.  Then the branches spread open to be about five times the girth of my locker.  I marveled at its size and beauty, and my friends’ ingenuity. Sure, that tree was still a little smashed up, tattered, and bruised.  The top had been folded down, and only sprang back halfway, but despite its beat up demeanor, I loooved it.  It reflected how I think we all felt in high school – as if we’d just been shoved in a locker and left there overnight.  Despite the fact that high school was one of the more socially challenging times in life for me, in that moment, I knew I had the coolest friends anywhere.

I grabbed the books I needed for my first two classes and threw the rest of my backpack into the bottom of my locker.  I squished my coat up into the little shelf at the top of my locker.  Then I tried to put the Christmas tree back into the locker so I could go to class.  But the thing about Christmas trees is, once they spread open, there’s no way to close them again. 

A crowd gathered.  We looked back and forth between my slender locker and the corpulent tree.  There is nothing that teenage boys enjoy more than a ridiculous challenge, a chance to impress girls, and an excuse to be late to class.  But no matter how many people tried to help, we could not get that Christmas tree back into my locker. 

The bell rang and students quickly disappeared into their respective classrooms.  I stood there in the relatively empty hallway trying to figure out what to do.  I couldn’t leave the tree next to my locker as someone would surely steal it.  So I did what every good, geeky, Jewish girl with a Christmas tree does; I schlepped that Christmas tree into class with me.  You can imagine the look on my teacher’s face. 

That Charlie Brown Christmas tree traveled with me from class to class to class, through the overcrowded hallway overpass, up and down the packed stairwells, and past the throngs of high school teens rushing and bustling to avoid being late. I carried that tree past just about everyone who attended my school.  All day long, people watched with surprise, delight, and good cheer as the short Jewish girl schlepped the big Christmas tree.  My Secret Santa gift was the hit of the high school.  The Christmas spirit definitely traveled through my high school that day. 

I spent the entire morning trying to figure out which of my friends had the outrageous comedic brilliance and engineering talent to shove a Christmas tree in my locker.  And I realized that every last one of them could have done it.  I hung out with some pretty funny nerds in high school. 

Finally, at lunchtime, as I carried that tree towards our lunchtime meeting spot, two of my friends fell to the floor in hysterics.  Their faces turned beet red.  I think they may have even peed in their pants. Finally I knew who the masterminds were. 

At last I got the story on how the Christmas tree got in my locker.  As my friends were walking home from school the day before, they passed the local Christmas tree lot and inspiration hit.  They meandered through the lot, trying to see if there were any beat up trees that they could afford.  They managed to find the scrawniest, puniest, most pathetic, unsellable tree on the lot and convince the guy to give it to them for something close to ten bucks, our Secret Santa limit. 

The sellers tightly bound the tree with twine as they did for all buyers who wanted to put the trees on their cars.  Except my friends didn’t have cars.  They had feet.  So after paying for the tree, my friends turned around and walked all the way back to school.  I imagine they laughed a lot, and cursed just a bit too, as they schlepped that tree through the bitter cold, getting stabbed by pine needles and covered with sticky tree sap. 

When they got back to school, they snuck that tree up the stairs and down the hallway to my locker.  Somehow, by hook and by crook, they managed to squeeze, shove, and mash that tightly bound Christmas tree into my locker.  They unknotted the twine and started pulling it free.  When the tree started to open, they closed the locker door partway to contain the tree before pulling off the rest of the twine.  Then they smashed the door closed and re-locked my locker.  The fact that they could close the door, my dear friends, I consider nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

Thirty years have passed since that Secret Santa gift.  My friend Louise was my Secret Santa.  The identities of the elves have grown sketchy with time.  As we age, we do seem to forget a lot of things.  I remember that my friend Ben was Louise's cohort in crime.  But Ben isn’t so sure.  Ben said I should check with John to see if it was him, but John’s memory is vague too.  John thinks it could have been Keith.  Indeed, all three of them turned out to be wildly successful computer geeks, so any one of them could have handled the engineering.  Dan can’t remember either.  He says that the beauty of our high school friends is it could indeed have been any of them.  And so, oddly enough, with the passage of time, the identities of my Secret Santa's Elves have become secret again.  But the memory of the gift will surely last a lifetime.