Finding the Tree … and Making Holiday Memories

Family outings often make the best holiday traditions. For my family it meant a half-day excursion on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to find the perfect Christmas tree.

About the time our daughter started school, a co-worker told me about a relative who sold trees from his farm some ten miles west of us in central Pennsylvania (and, I think, about ten miles up a hill). The owners made their living farming and sold trees as a sideline during the holidays. Perhaps that’s why the price for a tree never changed.

We would walk up and down the hillside examining rows of Douglas firs from every angle, searching for one that could hold myriad ornaments but still leave room for the angel at the top without scraping the ceiling. Once we found it, we waved to the workers below and one would jump on a four-wheeler with a wagon attached, zip up the hill with his chainsaw, and take the cut tree back down the hill for bailing. Then we would tie it to the top of the car.

The search never took very long—especially on frigid days when the wind whipped across the top of the hill. We spent most of our time chatting with the farmer and visiting the critters. He kept a fat turkey that apparently never had to fear Thanksgiving, a field with goats, a barn full of cats that my daughter loved to chase, various dogs that roamed the hillside, and a donkey they called “Milton Burro.” We always took an apple or carrot to feed Milton (or else he would eat your coat). The $15 we spent bought a memorable afternoon together every year for a decade.

It’s not just old editors who remember such Christmas outings. Our editorial intern, Erin Ilic, comes from a younger generation, but memories of her family’s tree selection outings are just as dear to her.

Every second weekend of December, my family heads out to Ohio Amish country with the families of two of my mother’s sisters to find that special Christmas tree. We have been going to the same family-run Christmas tree farm for at least a decade, though the tradition dates long before that. We keep ourselves occupied on the drive there playing our own version of “Punch Buggy”—except in “Amish Buggy” the point is to spot the most black, horse-drawn carriages.

Once at the farm, bundled in layers of clothes and heavy boots, we hop on the tractor-pulled wagon (despite its surroundings, the farm doesn’t adhere to conservative Amish culture) and head toward whatever field contains the types of tree my mom and aunts want.

Sometimes the farm’s dogs follow along. When we are dropped off, the race begins to see which family finds a tree first. While everyone is running around or guarding their finds, snowball fights inevitably break out.

One of the novelties of this farm is that you cut your own tree. My two older male cousins started cutting their family’s tree when they were old enough, so my dad thought I should try with ours, being the oldest of his three girls. After putting in considerable effort that didn’t make much of a dent, I passed the saw on to someone stronger who knocked it down.

Once the trees are ready we head back to the front of the farm where my cousins, sisters, and I abandon my dad and uncles tying the trees to the van roofs. Instead we head inside for hot chocolate and to warm up while cooking hot dogs and s’mores in the fireplace.

The day is my favorite family tradition. I haven’t been able to go since starting college, but I get the yearly video e-mail of the whole family throwing snowballs at the camera and saying, “Wish you were here.”

What family traditions do you cherish? Share them with us on the web at Christmas so we can pass your joy along to others—and maybe help start new traditions. Isn’t that what the holidays are all about?

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

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