Memories of Searching for Real Christmas Trees

Holidays marked by quest to find the perfect real Christmas trees


| December 2012



Snow Time

When small children are along to help, the task of finding a tree becomes more difficult, especially with snow on the ground. 

Photo By Clell Ballard

A recent news story reported that only 21 percent of Americans use “real” (or fresh) trees for Christmas. That is a decrease from more than 40 percent 10 years ago. Part of that is the result of rapid improvement in the quality of artificial trees. Not only do they look more realistic than they used to, but since most are imported from China, their cost has come down. Those who use them are missing two things.

The obvious missing piece is the fresh pine smell. With the exception of the few people who find any aroma unpleasant, for most people it is an olfactory treat to enter a home with a real tree. It not only looks like Christmas but also smells like it. The second thing missing is the actual process of obtaining a real tree every year. Even if a tree is purchased from a corner lot, the experience is unique to the season and the walk among the trees for sale is a somewhat-therapeutic interlude in our hectic lives.

Most Christmas tree farms are located in rural areas. In recent times such businesses have encouraged customers — many of whom are city residents — to come cut their own tree. That gets those city dwellers out in the clear country air and helps them appreciate how nature figures into Christmas festivities. Finding “just the right tree” among the many others can be a rewarding experience.  

Forest Service harvests

Sometimes the National Forests get in the act by allowing public harvest of trees on Forest Service land. When that happens, the territory where the trees are available is dramatically larger than even the largest tree farm. Instead of an hour or two on foot with an axe or saw, those seeking to find the right tree might spend a half-day or so trekking over hill and dale. Trees growing in the wild almost never have the uniform shape or fullness that commercially grown ones do. Finding one that is suitable takes a lot more searching.

At least in the West, National Forest areas are quite a distance from population centers. That means a tree cutter must travel to the site. If the weather cooperates, a tree can be harvested, loaded and hauled home with no problem. December weather often makes things difficult. Roads into the forest may be snow-covered and slick. Slogging through snow of any depth while searching for a tree can be daunting. Hardy individuals can still succeed but some major effort is required. The silver lining to such an undertaking is the great satisfaction one feels having faced the challenges and emerging victorious. Every glance at the decorated tree is affirmation that “you did good.”

An easier way

The proliferation of snowmobiles has changed that dynamic a lot. Now a person can ride in style (if not comfort) over a wide area in search of a suitable tree. Things may be a little crowded on the way back, as the machine has to be shared with a bushy object. The person without a snow machine is still on his own in covering territory, cutting the tree of his choice and dragging it to his vehicle.