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Arizona’s mysterious roadside Christmas tree gets a theme song

J-P Mauro - published on 12/20/19

A local tradition slips into legend as its tale is put to music.

For the last 30 years, a juniper tree on the side of Arizona’s I-17 has been found decorated for Christmas by an unknown party. The decorations appear overnight, and to this day no one has ever seen or at least reported having seen the anonymous merrymakers at work hanging ornaments. The tree has become a local Christmas tradition, but now after three decades, the tree has a name and a theme song.

Thanks to the efforts of Dolan Ellis, Arizona’s Official State Balladeer — a title we had no idea existed and we now desperately want — the tree will henceforth be known as Scrubby. The song tells the story of how Scrubby arose in the 1980s with a cute rhyme scheme and a nice country rhythm. Both the music and Ellis’ voice remind us of Johnny Cash, between his low baritone voice and the guitar that chugs along like a train.

Ellis describes Scrubby as a cedar tree, which our research indicates is incorrect, but the three-syllable “juniper” is harder to fit into the song and rhyme, so we understand the choice.

We especially liked how he brought themes of peace and love into the tune, and he even brings in the birth of Christ in the last verse. We were surprised that he was able to sneak that in, considering the video was produced by the Arizona Department of Transportation, but just like Scrubby, it was a welcome sight. We won’t tell if you won’t.

AZ Family notes that Scrubby has become so renowned in the Arizona region that these days the tree is decorated all year-long. Some time after the new year the Christmas decorations change to American flags and they stay up all year round. They also note that Scrubby has survived several wildfires, which all seem to die out just before they reach Scrubby.

So if the spirit moves you, go out to a deserted highway in the middle of the night and decorate a random tree. In 30 years it may be a local legend, complete with an origin story put into song.

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