CHARLOTTE, N.C. - For Larry the iguana, this truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Not because of presents or holiday parties. Not even because of the birth of Jesus. Larry doesn't have a religious bone in her cold-blooded body.

For Larry, you see, the Christmas season is all about the tree.

When Shawn and Rick Caldwell's Christmas tree goes up, so does their iguana. And until the tree comes down after the yuletide celebrations are over, that's where you'll find her. (Larry is a female, a fact that wasn't discovered until

after

she was named.)

During the day, the 4-foot-long lizard lounges on branches near the living room window, basking as sunlight streams through. When night falls, she climbs to the top and cozies up to the angel tree topper, warming herself under a ceiling light.

The Caldwells were surprised when they celebrated their first Christmas with Larry five years ago and she headed up the tree.

But they realized that her behavior makes perfect sense. Green iguanas, native to Central and South America, spend most of their time high in the rain forest canopy. For Larry, a Fraser fir feels a little like home.

Like many a family pet, Larry was purchased at the prodding of the family's sons - Kent, Grayson and Ross. Of course, Mom's the one who takes care of her.

Fortunately, Shawn Caldwell has grown quite fond of her reptilian friend.

The feeling appears mutual. When she scratches Larry's neck, the iguana leans into her hand and closes her eyes, one blissful lizard.

Knowing how much Larry loves the tree, Shawn Caldwell serves the animal's meals there, placing kale and other leafy greens right in the branches. That way, Larry only has to descend every couple of days for bathroom breaks. She's paper-trained.

When Christmas is over, Caldwell will pack away the lights and ornaments. But the tree itself will probably remain into February, until it's dried out and brittle.

For Larry the iguana, that's the best gift she could give.