Two decorated Christmas trees along TCH offer messages of love, loss and tradition

Along a small stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway are two decorated Christmas trees. They serve as a reminder to the importance of family and tradition during the Christmas season.

'I want people to realize that people still do care. There's still good in this world'

Just a few weeks ago, Rhonda Williams lost her oldest sister, Norma Gillingham. This tree is a memorial to her sister and her 21-year battle with lung cancer. (Martin Jones/CBC)

On a small stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway between Glenwood and Gander are two decorated Christmas trees.

For the people who decorated them, the trees are more than just symbols of the Christmas season. They also represent love, loss and remembering what Christmas is really all about.

Marsha and Craig Chippett decorated a Christmas tree on the side of the highway between Gander and Glenwood. It's their way of spreading the true meaning of a traditional Christmas. (Marsha Chippett)

Nestled among the firs and pines along the highway is one tree adopted by Marsha and Craig Chippett of Glenwood. The couple don't have a large family to focus on at Christmas, which allows them to put less attention on gifts and more on the old traditions of the holidays and giving back a bit.

"I want people to realize that people still do care … There's still good in this world," said Marsha Chippett. "There's still good people out there who want to do good things, and good things are very simple and don't cost a lot."

Rhonda Williams, right, recently lost her older sister, Norma Gillingham, to lung cancer. Williams decided to decorate a tree along the Trans-Canada Highway in her sisters memory. (Rhonda Williams)

The tree is decorated with garlands, ornaments and solar lights. Day or night, it's easily spotted by highway drivers. The Chippett family like to think of it as their gift to the community.

"I know that it only takes one kind word or gesture or smile to lift my mood," she said. "If this tree can do that for one person, then our job is done."

Just a few kilometres down the highway is the second tree, this one decorated by Rhonda Williams of Appleton.

It's a simple fir tree with garlands and Christmas balls. The tree has no lights on it, but when the sun breaks through the grey December afternoons, the tree sparkles.

Marsha Chippett and her son Kieran selected the perfect tree along the highway. It's a new family tradition that lets them focus less on gifts and more on spreading joy to others. (Marsha Chippett)

Williams chose that tree for its prime location. It's near the spot where she and her late sister, Norma, enjoyed many a boilup and a good laugh — but Norma lost her 21-year battle with lung cancer in October. The tree now serves as a memorial.

"She was so very special to me," said Williams. "I figured it would be a nice thing to put it somewhere where it meant something special to me and her."

"Every time I drive by it, there is something special that I feel. I just hope that everyone will get maybe the same feeling," 

This is so awesome. People need to go out and buy decorations for a tree. Go for it!- Marsha Chippett

While the community response to the trees has been mostly positive, there has been some concern about the distraction the trees may cause to highway drivers. Chippett says her goal is to look beyond that.

"We don't take it to heart," said Chippett. "But maybe sometimes you just have to drop everything and don't obsess about the distraction."

"If you don't want to look at it you don't have to … but you're missing out."

Despite the critics, both decorators agree the message the trees send to drivers is what's most important. They hope to remind anyone who sees them of the real meaning of Christmas and the importance of family during the holidays.

While each promises to continue this new tradition of decorating highway trees, they also extend an invitation for others to do the same.

"This is so awesome," said Chippett. "People need to go out and buy decorations and decorate a tree … Go for it!"

For Williams, this will be a bittersweet holiday — her first Christmas without her older sister. She plans to spruce up her memorial tree after this week's windy weather, saying her motivation is her late sister's voice in her ear and the encouragement only a sister could offer. 

"I sure hope she's looking down and saying, 'Whoa, Rhonda, you could have done it a lot better,'" laughed Williams.