Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Holiday Traditions: Getting the Tree

When I was a little girl, I wanted nothing more (OK, I'm sure I wanted a lot more, but you get the idea) than to go out and chop down a wild tree for our Christmas tree. We had a little artificial tree that was so short it had to stand up on the cube--an avant garde piece of furniture my dad built--with a piece of white quilt batting tucked around its base to represent snow (we set the Christmas village up on this snow...more on that later).

As our family and our ornament collection grew, we started buying full-sized live trees from one of the many Christmas tree lots that pop up this time of year, but still it wasn't the same as that Micky Mouse cartoon where he goes out with his axe and cuts down the tree Chip and Dale live in...that's what kind of Christmas tree I wanted.

So the first year C and I lived together in a little apartment in Englewood, Colorado, we got a permit to collect a tree on Forest Service land. We had to go all the way to Colorado Springs on a designated Saturday in December, but we also got to get our picture taken with Smokey Bear.

Choosing the perfect tree is a bit like choosing the perfect campsite--you start out kind of casually looking around, taking everything in, letting possibilities settle into your mind, but not deciding on anything, until you start to feel a bit tired and like you've covered the same ground a few too many times. Then you narrow it down to two or three options and you go over the pros and cons of each one and kind of let the perfect choice rise to the top on its own merits.

That first year we found the perfect little tree for our little apartment. It even had a tiny bird's nest in one of the branches. Our apartment was long and narrow, with a very dark living room that we didn't use much. I want to say we kept our tree up until Valentine's day that year, until the needles rained down at the slightest whisper of air.

The next year, living in Maine in an even smaller apartment in a converted barn, we began our tradition of collecting a tree on C's dad's land, which we continue today (no Smokey Bear here, unfortunately). Once we built and moved into our house we didn't even have to drive to the woods, but now walk out our door and down our trail to the "Christmas Tree Forest"--an area that was cut over some years ago and now grows thick with young balsam fir.

Our children have always accompanied us, in the sling, the backpack, or the sled (now they can walk, though I did take the sled because E and Z were a bit tired and cranky by the time we left home, and I towed each half-way). They have little patience for the tree selection process, and want to take the first tree they see (Z had already spied one near our driveway, in the opposite direction, and I needed to humor him and walk up there and see it while everyone else headed into the woods--to avoid turning Christmas-tree-getting into yet another battle-of-wills) which is usually much too big, or lop-sided, or in any case does not conform to our process!

Before cutting the tree, we say a few words thanking it for bringing light and joy into our winter darkness, and when the season's done (Jan 6), I drag its dry and brittle corpse back into the woods (though not quite as far as where we collected it usually) to return to the soil it came from. It's so much more dignified than sitting by the curb, waiting for the trash truck to take it away.

In years past we've gotten the tree on Saturday and set it up and decorated it on Sunday, and at least once gotten it on Sunday and decorated it the following Saturday, but this year we managed to cut it, bring it in (still dripping melted snow), and begin decorating it Sunday afternoon into evening. E, Z and I finished the decorating Monday morning.


  1. Are there extra people at the tree cutting? I looked at the picture and I was all "look at all the boys" and then I realized maybe there is one extra. Am I imagining things?

    Would love to see a picture of the decorated tree!

    Merry Christmas dear friend. xo

  2. We dream of cutting down our own tree. We did drive to a farm years ago to cut one down in the freezing rain with the kids huddled in the car. Not ideal, but my husband said this weekend that despite the curved trunk and the fact that that tree fell over three times in the stand that was his favorite. As much as I love Berkeley there is part of me that yearns for living on lots of land like you!


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