End (or at least postponement) of a Tradition

Dec. 6, 2013

My family has always been a live Christmas tree family. One of the earliest memories is of my dad taking out his knife on a hunting trip and cutting down a small slash pine for our Christmas tree. It wasn’t exactly like Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation” but it was as close as it gets in real life.

Over the years Pat and I have had our own adventures. For our first Christmas we drove out in the country to a piece of property owned by our friends. We learned a valuable lesson from that experience. Trees always look smaller in the woods than they actually are. It completely filled the living/dining/kitchen area of our tiny apartment. For the next few weeks we had to delicately negotiate around it in order to get in the apartment and to our bedroom. That was the year that we, along with the two couples who were our best friends, bought the same angel tree topper at a local marina turned Christmas store for the holidays. It has topped our tree for 43 years. My cousin Kathy was part of that group. She died of cancer several years ago and every time I put that angel on the tree I think of her.

There was the year that we began opening our presents and the paper stuck to our hands (again reminiscent of “Christmas Vacation).” Unbeknownst to us, sap had been slowly dripping from the tree for a couple of weeks. However, that was not as bad as the year we discovered a family of tiny spiders that had been breeding in the tree all throughout the holidays. They also found our gifts to their liking. Then there was the year that the tree fell over in the middle of the night. I learned the hard way the value of a proper stand.

Our first Christmas in St. Louis we discovered a wonderful Christmas tree farm that would allow us to continue our tradition. The owners were friendly and outgoing and the property on which the trees were located was stunning. There were rolling hills surrounding a small lake with four or five varieties of trees mingled in among hardwoods. Upon arriving we were given a bow saw and a cart and sent to find our perfect tree. The property was large enough to require a worthy hike and the hills left you feeling like you had really been to the wilderness. Each weekend after Thanksgiving we went to the farm braving cold, snow, or sometimes mud but more often than not enjoying gloriously sunny weather. Sometimes our kids and grandkids went with us. I usually could find a tree in about ten minutes. Pat on the other hand needed time to make sure we were selecting the right one. Whichever one we chose we made a big production of cutting it down, even capturing the moment on video. Every year we felt the new tree was more beautiful than the previous one. We have pictures of every one and though maybe not as perfect as a Christmas lot tree, I would never have traded one of our trees for one shipped in from another state. The price had remained a remarkably inexpensive $3.50 a foot for years.

A couple of Christmases ago I noted that some of the adjoining farmland had been bought up and condominiums were springing up along the road to the tree farm. I mentioned this to the owner and expressed I was sure glad he had kept the farm. He assured me he would be there as long as he could manage but given his advanced age and knowing the value of the property I had an uneasy feeling that the day was coming when our tree farm would be no more.

This year on the day after Thanksgiving we headed out to get our tree. I checked the website before I left and the farm was still listed so I thought we had at least another year. However, when we made the turn on to the country road I noticed there was no sign where one usually stood. I was relieved to see cars in the parking area and people at the checkout, but something was different. The people were not the same ones we usually saw. They looked more like temporary workers. Grabbing a cart and a saw we headed up to a familiar spot and were greeted by tape stretched across a large part of the property with “private, no trespassing” on it.” We also noticed there were very few trees and to get to one required the negotiation of knee high briars. Uh oh. We heard a lady on the trail say the phone for the tree farm had been disconnected. It soon became apparent that this was a fire sale of trees left over from previous years. After walking for about an hour, we gave up, dejected.

In the car on the way home, Pat Googled “Christmas tree farms” and located one a few miles away. After wandering around and getting lost we gave up and started home when we passed by a sign that said “Christmas Tree Farm.” My enthusiasm turned to gloom when I realized it was actually a Christmas tree lot full of cookie cutter firs and Scotch pines. My heart was not in it but we needed a tree and this was our last chance to get one for a couple of weeks. While I moped (I am sure the salesman thought me rude) Pat had him take out and turn every frasier fir on the lot….or so it seemed. I felt bad as the salesman had an overabundance of cheer that was being wasted on me. To make matters worse, I could have bought trees for about three more years at my Christmas tree farm with what I paid for a pre-cut tree from Michigan. I have to admit it is a pretty tree and all decorated it will accomplish its purpose. I haven’t yet taken a picture but I will eventually. I will also start looking for another place where I can cut my own tree though I am not sure I will find one. Most places seem pretty commercialized with hayrides for the kids and hot chocolate and people who cut the tree for you. It is just not the same. I don’t blame them though any more than I blame someone for selling valuable property instead of putting in back breaking work to raise Christmas trees. However, I will miss the excitement of heading out to the woods, traipsing through forested hills, and selecting and cutting that perfect tree.