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A city's official Christmas tree has brought plenty of grief. Good grief.
The 50-foot spruce has drawn comparisons to the scraggly sapling in "A Charlie Brown Christmas." It has giant bare spots. It's no one's idea of Christmas tree perfection.
That's especially true in Reading, Pennsylvania. The state is one of the nation's largest producers. Some residents and city officials called this city tree an embarrassment. They demanded it be replaced.
Instead, Reading decided to embrace the Charlie Brown theme.
Workers wrapped a blue blanket around its base. Linus would have done the same. Then they adorned it with a single red ball. The city announced a worldwide photo and essay contest. The winners are to receive copies of the book version of the beloved TV special. And the public is invited to give the tree a makeover. Just like the "Peanuts" gang surprised Charlie Brown. The gang turned his puny pine into a trimmed, twinkling beauty.
Turns out Reading's tree wasn't bad at all. It just needed a little love.
"Christmas is so commercialized that we tend to forget what Christmases used to be like," said Mayor Vaughn Spencer. "Sometimes we have to keep things in perspective. And I think that's the lesson here."
As generations of fans know, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" has the lovable loser picking a tree for the Christmas play. He rescues a tiny sapling that's losing its needles. But the other kids laugh at the tree. Then Linus tells the story of Jesus' birth. And the gang has a change of heart.
In Reading, the story doesn't have such a tidy ending.
Several pedestrians insulted the tree as ugly and unworthy as they walked past. The lone red ball was swaying in a stiff breeze.
Emma Vega called it an unwelcome reminder of Reading's troubles. Once a mighty manufacturing hub, the city of 88,000 is among the nation's neediest. Forty percent of its residents live in poverty.
For others, the tree offers up several timely messages. Nothing and no one are perfect. Be grateful for what you have. Make the most of what you've been given.
City Councilman Jeff Waltman said the treer symbolizes Reading itself. It's full of potential and ready for transformation.
"This tree carries its own little spirit," he said. "It has its own little voice now."
Critical thinking challenge: What about the tree troubled residents of Scranton, and why would people in Scranton be more troubled than people in other states?