Oh, Tannenbaum

The cherished tradition of hunting for the “real” Christmas tree pits holiday fantasy against reality.

  • Sometimes our success in finding a natural tree hasn’t been too good. Here, we have one that looks almost like the scraggly tree in the TV program A Charlie Brown Christmas.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • The author with his tree saw, walking through the usual amount of snow to fall before Christmas in this area.
    Photo by Clell Ballard
  • In the years when the hunt for a tree took place before significant snow had fallen, all five children loved to go on the hunt. Our little green Jeep is just visible far down the steep hillside in the valley.
    Photo by Clell Ballard
  • Our rare World War II military M7 snow tractor, built by Allis-Chalmers, is sometimes used to get us far enough in the hills to get Christmas trees. Here we have three trees on top, one for us, one for my parents and one for my in-laws.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • Deep snow in the forest. December sometimes brings a lot of snow, making the hunt for a tree much more difficult.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard

As early as October, television and social media start aiming commercials and advertisements at those who want to buy a Christmas tree. But you won’t see actual living trees (or trees that used to be living) advertised.

Instead, you’ll see beautiful trees, almost always professionally decorated, that are commercially produced. The emphasis of the sales pitch is that the product shown is just like a real evergreen. Thus, if that kind of artificial tree is purchased, no one will ever know it isn’t “real.”

Such trees often come complete with lights, so all you have to do is add ornaments. These “almost real” trees are very expensive. Of course, over an extended period, that cost can be pro-rated, so the yearly cost is not prohibitive. Some of the most expensive artificial trees are treated to have an aroma similar to that of a live evergreen, not that it will last many years. Other than a storage issue, what more could a person want? But let’s face it: They are fake!

Before those of us who don’t buy manufactured holiday trees begin to feel superior, we have to step back and realize that we, too, have been sucked into the commercial Christmas tree system. In 2017, more than 27 million formerly living Christmas trees were grown to be decorations.

The Search for a “Real” Tree

This country has nearly 13,000 Christmas tree farms operating on more than 300,000 acres; most are found in cooler climates. Careful planting, cultivating and care result in beautiful living trees that look and smell real. The average 7-foot tree is a 12-year-old plant. The good news is three seedlings are planted for every mature tree cut, so tree farming is a self-sustaining industry.

In the last few decades, large machines have been developed to shape trees to a perfect taper, and the trees are usually tightly bound to prevent damage in transit. The end of the year is a bonanza for Christmas tree farm owners. For the average person, buying a beautiful tree down at the corner lot, taking it home and decorating it is part of what Christmas is all about.


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