Six-year-old Bridget Lareau talks excitedly about the time a family friend sent a request to Santa, asking him to stop by her house after he finished his gift-giving rounds. How did she get in touch with Mr. Claus? By email.
Even if it turns out that Santa faces the same digital distractions as the rest of us, he, like much about the holidays, can still be magical. Take the decidedly low-tech experience of cutting your own Christmas tree. At the Rocks Estate, in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, visitors, including Bridget and her extended family, wander over snow-covered fields through rows of evergreens that stretch as far as the eye can see. They can inhale the scent of fragrant needles and try to guess: Is this a balsam fir or the similar-looking Fraser? Then there's manager Nigel Manley, who, with his thick black beard, rosy cheeks, and twinkling eyes, could pass for a younger relative of Kriss Kringle's.
The National Christmas Tree Association makes it possible to search by ZIP code for farms offering a cut-your-own experience. Many state growing associations also have websites with listings. Two things to remember to bring to the farm (or to ask whether they'll be provided) are a measuring tape and a handsaw. (Before you cut a tree, it pays to know it will fit in your living room.) As you browse, flag favorites with a bandanna so that it will be easier to comparison shop.
The first trees to get picked over tend to be the ones near the parking lot, so the farther reaches of a farm might offer a better selection. Leave a good stump on the tree you cut, and trim a half inch at home before putting it in water.
Bridget's family decided on a 7-foot-tall balsam with a long, pointy leader -- just right for a star -- at the top. It's the kind of tree the guy in the red suit would appreciate. Maybe he'll hear all about it by text message.
For more on how to pick out a Christmas tree, see our Christmas Tree Glossary.
Above: Rows of balsam firs at the Rocks Estate, in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, extend toward the horizon. Below: With its open branches, a Fraser fir (left) makes an ideal backdrop for delicate handmade bead ornaments. A pyramid of dried pinecones dressed with silver spray paint conceals the tree stand. Colorful ornaments (right) stand out against the dense branches of a Nordmann fir. This one has a vintage tree fence and a mound of fake snow at its base. The decorations include popcorn garlands, popcorn balls, and layered-felt animal ornaments.