How To Pick a Christmas Tree

Thanksgiving? It's come and gone. Your appetite? Satiated by monumental quantities of turkey, gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Now you can sit back, relax and wait for the next big holiday feast, right?

Wrong! Now's the time to work up an appetite before the gluttony to come. Arise from your turkey stupor - you've got to pick out the perfect Christmas tree! Quick, before your neighbor gets to it first!

  1. Choosing the tree type. Do you prefer a noble or a Douglas fir? Are you looking for a deep, dark green or a cool, grayish blue? There are many popular tree varieties available for Christmas trees in the United States. Check out the National Christmas Tree Association's list of tree types for more information before you search for your ideal Christmas tree. The most common types of Christmas tree in the U.S. are Douglas fir, scotch pine, noble fir, grand fir, Fraser fir, balsam fir, white spruce and white pine.

    However, many other types of Christmas trees exist and availability depends upon your region. When you pick out your tree, explore the options available and consider your tree decorations, tree lights, and the room where you keep your tree. For example, if you plan to adorn the Christmas tree with lots of draping garlands or big ornaments that require room to hang, then a noble fir would probably be a better choice than a Douglas.

  2. Where to get the tree. You have three basic options: tree lots, tree farms or forest land.
    • Tree lots. The most convenient location for picking out your Christmas tree will be a local tree lot. You can find these scattered through the shopping centers of towns and cities during the holiday season. These are trees that were already harvested from tree farms, so they would not be the freshest tree choice. But proceeds sometimes go to benefit local community groups and charities, making this a way to pick your tree and potentially do a good deed at the same time.
    • Tree farms. For those who can travel longer distances, tree farms offer the opportunity to cut your own tree from the ground in a much more natural setting. In many cases, those who choose to visit tree farms really want to get out of the city for the more authentic tree-harvesting experience. You can find tree farms that bustle with visitors and offer hot cider and sleigh rides. But you can sometimes find that secluded, remote tree farm as well, far from any crowd.
    • Forests. Large amounts of land are open to those who want to hike through actual forests to find their perfect family Christmas tree. In these cases, you will need a permit, which can often be purchased from ranger stations or local outfitting stores. The trees that grow wild will not be as symmetrical as trees you would find in a farm. Remember to be prepared with warm clothing and water, and be careful not to lose your way.

    All three options are appealing for different reasons. How far are you willing to travel to find the perfect Christmas tree? For some, the prospect of a long journey is definitely unappealing; time is a commodity during the holiday season. After all, that travel time is time you could be spending obsessively decorating your house with Christmas lights! Others, however, consider the journey for a tree to be an annual tradition, and an opportunity to dress in warm clothing, bring a thermos of hot cocoa, sing your favorite carols or dust off that same old, semi-warped cassette tape and pop it into the tape player. If you have young children, the experience of visiting a tree farm will forge a lasting, wonderful holiday memory.

  3. When to get your Christmas tree. Some people pick out their Christmas trees shortly after Thanksgiving, while others wait until mid-month or perhaps until Christmas eve (the more traditional method). However, there are a few reasons why picking your Christmas tree earlier could lead to a jollier time. If you plan to visit a tree farm but wait until later in the month of December, it's possible that your ideal tree could be already cut down and claimed before you even arrive on the scene. Not only that, but you may feel better about chopping down a tree if you maximize the amount of time you can actually enjoy it in your house (Epiphany is pretty much the latest point after Christmas that people would potentially keep a tree in their house).
  4. Finding a healthy tree. No matter where you buy the Christmas tree, be careful not to select a tree that displays signs of sickliness or disease. Does the tree have lots of brown needles or appear discolored for its species? Does it have a good amount of needles, or seem barer than it should? Can you easily cause needles to fall off simply by brushing your hand down a branch? Look for a robust Christmas tree; the healthier it is when you pick it, the longer it will thrive inside your house.
  5. It's okay to be obsessive, but not mean-spirited. Passions sometimes flare when choosing a family Christmas tree. (Or is that just my family?) But no pain, no gain, right?! Now that's an adage that sometimes applies just as well to many other holiday rituals (putting up Christmas lights, welcoming extended family, assembling complicated gifts for much of the night). But if you focus on the pain, you miss out on the gain - holiday warmth, family love and bonding, the joy in thinking of others. Finding the perfect Christmas tree is no exception. Remember that a Christmas tree is a profound symbol of the season. If picking out a Christmas tree becomes more stressful than it is fun, it's time to shake up your tree-finding ritual and rediscover the magic of a Christmas tree. As it stands in your home, you can see its comforting evergreen hues, smell the fragrance of fresh sap, let the twinkly lights dazzle you between the dark tree boughs, and this winter be reminded of the same fact that has comforted humankind for thousands of years - that light shines even brighter in the dark, life continues despite the winter cold, and hope is impervious to everything.

And then you can look down at your hands, rubbed raw by the bark and the pine needles and sticky from sap. You can clean up the sawdust from your garage, because inevitably the tree was too tall for your house! You can watch your cat eying the tree ornaments mischievously, and groan as the tree settles crookedly into its stand. But all of it will make you smile, because it's Christmastime!


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