A quintessential piece of the Christmas season as I was growing up was our family’s annual trip to the tree farm. My dad, having brought along his own saw, would lie on the ground and hack down whatever tree his girls (my mom, my sister, and I) had chosen. Once separated from its stump, he’d heave the tree into the back of our pickup truck to be shaken and baled. I couldn’t wait to get home and fish the decorations out from under the stairs.
As a child, having a real Christmas tree was magical. I loved trudging around the tree farm, opining on which tree had just the right height, texture, and fullness for our space. As an adult, choosing a real tree is a real pain in the ass. For starters, it’s cold out there. Not to mention having to chase two overly excited kids through prairie grass in between tall trees, cutting one down and getting it home. But that’s just the tip of the annoying iceberg. From that day until Christmas, you’re cleaning up sap and needles, and because that thing is thirstier than a St. Bernard, you’re stuck filling its water dish over and over and over again.
So, you can see why in all my adult years, I’ve opted for a fake Christmas tree. I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of a real tree, especially when I have a perfectly good sham tree in a box in the crawl space. But I started to think of the happy Christmas memories I have as a small child, and I realized I wanted to give my kids the same gift.
The look on Eric’s face when I proposed this idea was not one of enthusiasm. He was understandably surprised, especially given how lazy I usually am about holiday decorating. But he knows the old saying “a happy wife makes a happy life” so he didn’t put up much of a fight.
A few days later, it was time to make the trip. I couldn’t help but notice my husband was having much less fun that I was on the way to the tree farm. While I was merrily singing along to Dolly Parton and Kenny Roger’s 1984 album, Once Upon A Christmas (a twangy, campy collection of songs to which I happen to know all the words), he was near grimacing. “You make this / A Christmas to remember / Springtime feelings / In the middle of December…” I kept patting his knee excitedly, waiting for the music to catapult him right into the Christmas spirit. I’m still waiting.
Things started to go sideways almost immediately. Arriving at the tree farm, I realized that I didn’t recognize the buildings and the farm seemed much bigger than I remembered. Maybe it was because a lot had changed in the 20 years since I had last been there. But mostly it was because I had brought us to the wrong tree farm.
Unlike the quaint, quiet tree farm I had grown accustomed to, this one was so big it had outfitted farm equipment with wagons to pull shoppers around. With over 350 acres, this service was more necessity than luxury. We shivered as the big red tractor-wagon escorted us from one plot of trees to the next, its gigantic tires kicking up fresh mud as we rolled slowly along. As our chariot came to a stop near some promising specimens, we hopped off and began making our way through the field of thick grasses to a cluster of spruces. We weaved among them until we found one that felt just right: decent and upstanding but also a little quirky. Choosing the tree, as it turns out, was the easy part. Now we had to cut it down with a standard issue saw on loan from the tree farm.
Eric quickly got to slicing, while the kids tried their best to injure themselves on nearby branches and crawl directly into mud piles. When I grew impatient that the process of severing the tree from the ground was taking longer than 3 minutes, he kindly invited me to try. I laid on the ground, hoping there was enough grass between my coat and the mud to keep myself somewhat clean, and started hacking away at this tree with all my might, grunting like Serena Williams in the midst of a power serve.
Despite both of our efforts, after what felt like an eternity (but was probably less than 10 minutes), the trunk was maybe 60% detached. So, we did what any freezing, time-crunched, stressed-out parents would do: we pushed that thing over and let gravity work its magic. “Crack!”
My hands went numb from the cold, both kids were screaming, and our prized tree laid on its side in the middle of the field. If I could have clicked my heels together three times and gone home, I would have done it. We dragged our spruce to the edge of the field just as one of those tractor-wagons came into view. I jumped up and down, waving my hands like a marooned shipmate who spotted a helicopter in the sky. It approached, and we scurried back on, eager to return to the main lodge to warm up.
We sipped on hot chocolate while the boys shared a donut before making our way home with the perfect tree tied tightly to the top of our car. We were tired and wind whipped but happy. I think I even saw Eric smile a bit when we unfurled the tree later on that evening. It smells like Christmas. It looks like Christmas. I can’t help but think this is a tradition we’ll keep.
What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?