I have my in-laws to thank for everything in this post. When I was young we occasionally had live Christmas trees, but they came from the hardware store. It wasn’t until after my marriage that I discovered the joys of harvesting your own Christmas tree. Why do I like it so much, you may ask?
- It’s magical. Imagine, an annual treasure hunt with everyone you love in a forested winter wonderland. Finding, cutting, and hauling a Christmas tree out of the woods is adventurous, thrilling, exciting… an all-around jolly-good time. This is one of those easy traditions that transforms your family culture into something magical.
- It’s cheap. It costs about $5-15 to purchase a tag for cutting down a Christmas tree. You are limited by size and conifer variety, but the size limit is something like 20 ft. I don’t even know how you’d haul home a 20 foot tree. And there is no way you’re more limited in conifer variety on a mountain than you are in a store.
- The pictures are priceless. Some of my most favorite family pictures come out of our annual Christmas tree hunt. Everything is beautiful, and everyone is bundled up in scarves, hats, gloves, coats, and boots. Everyone is enjoying themselves, and it all feels so CHRISTMAS-Y!
- The results are lovely. When you buy a tree from a tree lot or purchase a fake tree, you typically end up with the same-old, run-of-the-mill tree that everybody else in the neighborhood has. Trees that grow in the wild have a lot more variety, and in my opinion, that variety is beautiful. You also end up with the wonderful scent of pine in your house. And if you bring home a tree that is just slightly taller than you need, you can cut off the lower branches and use them to decorate your kitchen cabinets or the tops of doorways.
This was the first year we had vaulted ceilings. We decided to go with a tall, spindly tree. I’ve since decided that spindly isn’t my favorite. It sure was fun to have a tree so tall, though.
If you’d like to give this tradition a try in your family this year, here is how you go about it:
- Figure out where to buy a tag. If you google the State where you live and “Christmas tree tag 2018” you should be able to find where Christmas trees can be cut in your area and where to buy the tag. You can also find out WHEN to buy the tag. In my area, Christmas tree tags sell out quickly, so I’d advise buying the tag the day they go on sale. When you buy, they should provide you with maps of the appropriate locations for your hunt, and the rules concerning height/tree variety/etc.
- Measure your space. Don’t try to eyeball it! Everything looks a lot smaller sitting out under the heavens. The tree you thought would definitely fit could end up being WAY taller than you realized. If you don’t want to use a measuring tape, use your own body as a guide. Estimate how many feet of clearance is there over your fingertips with your arm fully extended over your head. Actually, that’s the method we use, but then we’ve been doing this for years.
- Gather supplies. You’re going to need a tree stand, a few spare chunks of wood, an ax or hatchet, a bunch of rope, work gloves, and a tape measure (or whatever measurement tool you choose). Unless you have a truck, you’ll have to lasso your tree to the top of your car, so make sure you’ve thought through all of that. If your car has a rack on top it should be easy. If not, you will need to use cord that isn’t too thick for you car doors to close on, or plan to drive home with the window’s cracked open (which is freezing, by the way.)
- Find your tree! A few little tips: trees that have grown in clumps with other trees often have bare spots. Keep an eye out for that. Also watch out for trees that have grown on a slope. Often their trunks aren’t straight, and that can be a little funny once you get it home. You’ll want to pay close attention to the trunk at the bottom, where you’ll be setting your tree in the stand. If that bottom piece of trunk isn’t straight it can be hard to clamp onto it with the tree stand, and you’ll have to cut off the wonky bit of trunk, which might make the tree shorter than you wanted. You may also want to shake the snow off a tree before you decide to cut it down. The snow can make your tree look fuller than it actually is.
- Tie it to your car. The biggest thing to keep in mind when tying your tree down is direction. You want the top of the tree hanging off the back of your car and the bottom trunk lying over your windshield. The reason for this is simple. If the weaker part of the tree is pointed into the wind, either the wind will snap it back, or the tree will catch the wind and take flight for a moment, thumping back down on your car roof when the rope tugs it back. This is not a pleasant way to travel. The first time we tied a tree to our car roof we made this mistake, and ended up pulling off of an exit in Idaho in the dark of night, finding a beer bottle, and using the glass to cut the tree off, leaving it abandoned on the side of the road. The first 20 minutes of that car ride were filled with the terror that our tree might just fly off our car altogether, and crash into the car behind us on the freeway.
- Getting rid of your tree after Christmas. Many cities have a special day for picking up and hauling Christmas trees. Look it up on your city website.
A word of encouragement: I’ve heard some warnings about live Christmas trees that I think are over-blown. I’m not very good at watering my Christmas trees regularly, but I’ve never had a tree go brown, or lose it’s needles from drying out. I recommend doing your best to keep the tree watered, but you’d have to leave your tree up for a very long time in order for it to dry out like that. Also, I’ve heard people report finding bugs in their trees. Whenever you bring something in from the outdoors, there is the possibility that something unwanted might sneak in with it. I’ve never found bugs in my tree. Maybe dragging the thing off the mountain tends to shake the critters out? I am not a fan of bugs, but I’d say the chances of this are not high enough to fret over.