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For those who read or want to write for the magazine
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
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 www.EarlyAmericanLife.com/Share
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?
The entry deadline for the 2023 Directory of
Traditional American Crafts has passed. We are now processing entries and submitting
them to our jurors. We will contract entrants after the jurors have made ther decisions.