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Christmas Traditions: A Day at the Tree Farm

Martha Stewart Living, December 2007

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.

Pinecone Tree Stand
Felt Animal Ornaments
Popcorn Ornaments and Garland

Popcorn Balls with Golden Raisins

Comments (4)

  • sassafraskat 23 Nov, 2008

    If you get an artificial tree, be sure it is for the right reasons. Saving the environment is not one of them. Artificial trees are made of non-renewable resources like petroleum, are made who-knows-where

  • JenniferSears 18 Nov, 2008

    true trees grow on farms, but how many people go and cut down tree's in forests? I agree with groovygrandma, real christmas tree's is a horrible tradition, I don't understand why people can not buy a fake one, they are cheaper and save our enviroment not that anyone cares about it. If you really need the real tree smell buy some potpouri !

  • HeatherBradley 11 Nov, 2008

    uh...Christmas trees are grown on farms, not in the forest.

  • groovygrandma1 1 Dec, 2007

    This comment is about when to buy your Christmas Tree!
    I don't anymore, I save the forest and bought a Martha Stewart Tree 4 yrs ago and it is beautiful. Thanks Martha