Sunday, November 25, 2012

O Christmas Tree: A Family Tradition

Our 2012 Christmas Tree
I wanted to take some time to share with you one of our many family Christmas traditions: taking a day and cutting down our Christmas Tree.
We live in the city - just blocks outside of Detroit - and there are plenty of Christmas Tree lots around the area. As a kid I used to go with my father to these lots to help pick out the perfect one. I remember walking through the forest of trees sitting there on this big city parking lot and imagining I was actually in a pine tree forest and we were there with our axe to cut one down. However, the constant big-city intrusion of traffic noise would constantly bring me back to my urban reality.
But it was still great fun to help get a tree - at least we got a real one when so many others were beginning to get artificial.
The first Christmas I spent living with my wife was when things changed. I knew what I wanted to do that year, and we did. We went to some place near the tip of Michigan's thumb called Dog Patch Tree Farm and, for the first time, cut down a Christmas Tree.
It was every bit as special as I had hoped it to be. And more. I was John-Boy Walton walking with Grandpa up Walton's Mountain to chop one down. I was a pioneer from the 19th century bringing Christmas into our isolated cabin.
I was...chopping down a Christmas Tree!
Sounds silly, doesn't it?
But that's me.
And we've been doing it ever since.
The Western Tree Farm cabin

The best part is my kids enjoy this tradition as well; they've never known any different. In fact, we now go to a place up in Applegate, Michigan (still in the thumb but a bit lower) called Western's Tree Farm, a family owned business. Ever since we discovered it 25 years ago it's been our tree-cutting destination. Heck! My oldest, who is getting married in six months, wasn't even born during our first Western visit!
Now, why would we go to the same place for 25 years? Well, without trying to sound like I am a part of their advertising staff, it's simply because they are the best around. They have and do everything we like. Plus they have an outrageously large amount of trees of all types. We prefer the blue spruce, and that's been our favorite tree for most of our years.
This time we took the horse ride out
It's at Western's that one can take a hayride (horse-drawn and/or tractor-pulled) out to the tree type of your choice. And, though many times we might find a tree pretty quick, we'll still walk around and look 'just because.' I mean, now I am really in a Pine tree forest. Or rather, a Christmas Tree forest, so I like to enjoy every bit of my dream come true!
The Christmas Tree forest!
With thousands to choose from, we always seem to find the 'perfect tree.'

I used to be the one to cut down the tree but I now have a couple of older sons, age 24 and 21, who do it.
They also will carry it back to the front cabin. Sometimes we wait for the cart to come and pick us up but other times it's more fun to walk. Especially with my two oldest.
Oh, I know you're expecting me to say that we sing Christmas Carols as we trudge along. Um...not with Tom and Rob; as they marched down the pathway this year, they...ahem...skipped, twirled, and quoted Monty Python and Beatles movie lines as they did so.

At the front of the farm they have a tree shaker and wrapper and they'll tie it to the roof of your car or van. *For free.* I like that.
They also have a small log cabin store that, many years ago, was built with the logs from their farm  (I remember when they were building it). Inside, one would expect to see all of the cheap Chinese commercial crap that one finds everywhere to make a quick buck. But guess what? Many of the items here are Michigan made from the locals in the Sanilac County area. Plus there are all kinds of greenery such as roping and wreaths and the like.
Warming up by the fireplace - a real fireplace!
All pretty good quality American-made stuff.
And then there's the homemade cookies & hot chocolate with a roaring fire in the fireplace.
Tell me that isn't "just like the ones I used to know"!
It takes us around an hour and a half to get up to Western's from where we live, but it's well worth the drive north from my house.
Especially when it snows (it didn't this year, unfortunately).
On our way home from the tree farm we'll stop off in the small village of Lexington to eat at the finest burger place around: Wimpy's. The burgers taste just like bar burgers without the adult surroundings. It's a regular diner-type restaurant with booths and fry cooks. Again, just like the ones I used to know.
The beautiful 19th century village of Lexington, Michigan

Of course, you have to visit the store right next door to Wimpy's, an old-fashioned general store (again, say it with me: just like the ones I used to know) with penny candy, nic-nacs, antiques hanging from the ceiling, and a variety of interesting items for sale.
Inside the general Store

Our bellies full and candy paid for, it's back on the road where we make it home as the daylight begins to wane. I immediately set the tree up in the tree stand and prepare it for decorating. My children really bite at the bit for hanging the ornaments - yes, even my two oldest - and we keep the style in a pseudo-Victorian manner. Not necessarily authentically so, mind you - we can't afford that - but in the picture-book vein of Victoriana. We use decorations that we have purchased over our 27 year marriage - most purchased in shops from Frankenmuth and at Greenfield Village. With the variety of decorations, I like to think that our tree is fun and interesting  to look at. No matter how many times you glance at it you always seem to see something you hadn't seen before.
Here are just a few of our ornaments:
Yes, you do see characters from Dickens "A Christmas Carol" hanging on our tree!
I'm not quite sure what this is, but I believe it's a sort of cornucopia. Do you see the caroler and a Dickens book? Yes, we do light our candles once or twice during the season.
More Victorian-style ornaments including a pineapple. What's a pineapple have to do with Christmas? During early Colonial days in the United States, families would set a fresh pineapple in the center of the table as a colorful centerpiece of the festive meal, especially when visitors joined them in celebration. This symbolized the utmost in welcome and hospitality to the visitor, and the fruit would be served as a special desert after the meal. Often when the visitor spent the night, he was given the bedroom which had the pineapples carved on the bedposts or headboard--even if the bedroom belonged to the head of the household.
What's a Christmas Tree without a pocket watch attached? And my 3rd son loves lighthouses. Then there's the Victorian-style Christmas scene ornament
Wooden ice skates, a traditional Santa, and a colonial lantern help to make the tree a bit more unique.
And here are a couple of replica Victorian decorations: a tiny box with a painted cover and a cloth bell (middle top)
It's wonderful to have such traditions as this, and I am so happy and bless'd to have a family that gladly loves and participates in it as much as I do.
I'm sure this will be passed down to their children and their children's children.
At least I hope so...
Yes, we do light the candles on our tree and have done so for 27 years. Believe me when I say I take all precautions when I do this. It is truly is a beautiful sight to see.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Season.



Bama Planter said...

This was a great post and I can tell ( as a writing teacher) that it was carefully written. You should publish it, pictures and all, in a booklet for your family. At least run off some copies and put them in a binder for everyone for Christmas! My family in the 1960's would ride in the hay wagon behind the tractor and go to our north woods every year to get a tree. It was fun then, and it is one of the things I most remember about Christmas. Thanks for writing this special memory post. Marshel in Alabama

GinaBVictorian said...

Hi Ken, Your tree is so pretty and I love those real candles! I watch The Walton's all the time and can see in my mind your vision too! I wish my husband got into tradition like you do, how fun! Thanks for sharing!

Sherri Farley said...

Wonderful post. When our children were growing up we too went to a tree farm and cut our tree, after much searching for the absolute perfect one! It was a tradition started when our children were small. Your tree is beautifully decorated and I love the candles! Best Wishes for a happy Christmas!

An Historical Lady said...

Dear Ken,
You did it again~Super post! Every year at Christmastime when I was a kid my dad would take us up to Wisconsin to my grandparents farm, where they spent summers. We would always pick out and cut down our Christmas trees. When I had my kids we also cut down a tree together each year. My son sounds like yours! He used to do goofy impressions of Canadians, saying "eh, eh?" constantly, as well as imitating Steve Martin doing his 'walk like an Egyptian' moves, and the ever popular Monty Python mimicry as well---HUH? What was THAT all about?!
When I was alone, and moving to NH 15 years ago, I gave all the childhood ornaments to the kids and started my own New England Christmas traditions and never looked back. Those memories are grand, though!
BTW, LOVED the Waltons from the day they premiered and still do!!
Bless you, my friend, and keep on keeping Christmas in your heart.