Christmas is a season full of tiny untruths as we hide gifts or distort a situation, all for the sake of surprise.

The Christmas tree was a method I once used to impress two very young daughters who had no knowledge of Paul Bunyan and would not need the myth because they had their father.

At the time, we lived in a converted barn in a heavily wooded area about 30 miles north of New York City.

Choosing a tree from the many on sale in a vacant lot was easy one morning while my daughters, 2 and 4, were in preschool nearby.

For some unknown reason I decided to walk into the woods about 20 yards from our home and stick the tree into the foot-deep snow that had fallen a few days earlier.

It was late afternoon when, maybe with Currier and Ives in mind, I suggested we all bundle up and take a walk in the woods to chop down our own Christmas tree.

The quiet of the woods was shattered by giggles of excitement as we plunged through the snow, they pulling a sled and I carrying a blunted ax on my shoulder.

"How about that one," the older girl suggested, pointing to a sturdy pine.

Frightened by her choice, we took a quick vote and she lost, 2 to 1. I knew my younger one's vote was still in my pocket.

Then, moving them toward my chosen tree and motioning them to stand clear, I raised my ax and in one fell swoop the tree fell.

There was a slight feeling of guilt. I was enjoying their awe and admiration as we placed the tree on the sled.

Watching them haul it to the house, I knew someday they would know the truth but for now -- what the hell, it was Christmas.

It was later when we realized the country was not a good place for growing children. The young one was holding long conversations with a chippmunk and our closest neighbors were a family of skunks who lived beneath the barn. We decided to return to the city.

The apartment in Queens was an improvement. There were kids everywhere for ours to play with.

It was there that the girls discovered Hanukah and that a couple of their friends next door received a gift every morning for eight days running. From that point on, they weren't sure they were getting a good deal by opening all their presents on the same day.

During this period the parents of the girls celebrating Hanukah always purchased a small, portable Christmas tree.

During the Hanukah holidays, when the grandparents came for a visit from the Bronx, that portable tree, fully decorated, would be in our living room.

The second tree looked silly alongside ours, and I would tell our neighbor, "Listen, I don't mind hiding the ham in our refrigerator when your parents came, but people visiting us think we're crazy when they see two Christmas trees in our living room."

As we moved from city to city our Christmas tree ornaments became more plentiful, but our favorites were the homemade offerings from the children's early years in School.

As the boxes were dragges out of the attic each year, the tiny paper gingerbread man faded a bit more, but the penciled smile was still there.

The first-grade Santa Claus, wearing the pasted-on cotton beard, was scruffy with age.

The tree handings brought home from school showed a progressive sophistication as the girls moved through the grades.

A cardboard roll from the inside of toilet tissue became a base for Jack Frost.

Pipe cleaners had been used with great dexterity and sequins and beads changed the dimensions of the ornaments.

There was the fun of decorating. The lights looked perfect as we retired for the night, only to awake in the morning and find that a 3-year-old had crawled out of bed to redistribute every ornament she could reach on the lower branches.

Christmas is a once-a-year shot, and we will splurge on a fat expensive Christmas tree, spending the money you could waste at the track or on football bets. The kids will be back home this Christmas, away for a few days from the world they now move in.

The tree will look splendid, the gingerbread man will dangle alongside the Santa Claus. The former 3-year-old still rises early, but now can reach the top branches to redistribute the ornaments.

Each year I wonder, should I tell them about that tree in the woods I toppled so easily? But I aways decide to put it off, knowing they must already know and, being very polite about the ruse, might say, "What the hell, it's Christmas."