It’s 5:30 A.M. and I’m sitting here quietly surveying my household. A cup of java is steaming in my hand and I can see the fog is heavy outside this morning. Christmas paraphernalia is spread out all over my table and the lights of our tree are visible in the living room after being darkened for the night. I feel cheery and warm this drizzly morning.
We are “real” tree people. I grew up in a household that always had a fresh pine tree to decorate. The smell would permeate the house as the fiasco with the bottom branches was evened out, and the tree was finally nestled into its home in the metal base. Décor from homemade crafts, school projects, and vintage balls were hung with care on intertwining branches and a star found its home at the top of the tree. I carried that tradition into my marriage and every year of our twenty-three married Christmases together have seen a real pine tree ensconced in our living room. In the end, it may not be the cheapest way to go. Artificial trees are by and far worth their money over and over. Spend $100 on a nice one and it will last you many, many years. But for me, sacrificing the ambiance of a real tree and the adventure we always have picking one out is not worth it to me. I will gladly spend that $30-$40 every year.
In the early days I used to buy a tree in whatever grocery store was selling them. I remember buying them from the small mom & pop store in Walnut Creek when we lived there. Scraggly scotch pines filled our living room and I felt we had it all with those first trees filled with hand me down ornaments and vintage ones I had collected and bought from thrift stores. That was back when you could still buy a beautiful vintage Christmas ball from Save & Serve for ten whole cents. Prices have gone up a bit, but I still hold on to the collection I amassed all those years ago. Our babies, in succession, have laid in front of our trees – their eyes full of wonder at the lights and spectacle of Christmas that overtakes the house. Somewhere along the line, probably when the kids got older, we headed down to New Phila to a small Christmas tree lot that looked like it was straight out of a movie. Row after row of trees stood under strewn lights, Christmas music playing, and we walked each row until we found the perfect one. The kids would dodge in and out of the tree rows and shout to each other about this tree and that one. Finally, we would hoist it on top of our vehicle, strap it down, and head home to put it up.
I’m not sure what made me want to do something different this year. We have never been to a tree farm to pick one out, but I posed the question to my Facebook friends where the best place to get one was and overwhelmingly one place was mentioned: Fencerow Farms just south of New Bedford. Now, I’ve lived here my entire life and I’ve never heard of Fencerow Farms. After being told and hearing people rave about how quaint and awesome it was we decided to meander down that way on a rainy Sunday. We headed out and turned right on SR 557 and immediately I realized that all those chipped signs saying “Christmas Trees” were the path that was leading us. As we drove farther, turned south in Charm and headed back that curvy road, the Christmas songs were blaring on the radio and I could feel the mood in the car change. Every care or trouble we had seemed to drift away as we got closer and closer. Finally, a sign came into view – nothing fancy, no lights or anything – pointing the way down, down a hilly narrow drive. We saw a farm with an outbuilding warm with lights and smoke curling up and away from the chimney. We parked and got out and row after row of perfect Christmas trees spiraled away into a field as we stared in wonder. It was too late to actually cut one of our own so we chose one already cut. We even went home with a $6 Charlie Brown tree for my daughter’s boyfriend who doesn’t usually have a real tree – she said it was time to change that. The small little shop held antiques and trees with ornaments to buy. A big wood stove put off heat and we sat by its warmth and sipped cocoa as the kids ran through the shop like they were small again. There was magic in the air that night, and as we drove away they said that this was the coolest place they’d ever been to get a tree.
Our beautiful tree is now glowing softly in the place of honor in our living room. Its verdant green branches are hung with orbs of white and balls of sparkly color. The smell of pine and sap fills the house and it finally feels like Christmas with our “real” tree in place. Maybe someday, when I’m old and gray, I’ll give in and buy an artificial tree. Chances are, though, that I’ll be dragging my grandkids out to help me pick out a real one – because without the smell of pine, softly dropping needles, and watering the tree every other day – it wouldn’t really seem like Christmas. It’s the best money you’ll ever spend.