’Tis the season to be jolly, and for many families, that starts with picking a fresh Christmas tree.
While many opt for an artificial evergreen, a significant number of families trek to spots like Candle Tree Farm in Washington and Kent Tree Farm outside of Waynesburg for an outdoor holiday adventure.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 30 million to 35 million American families celebrate the holiday season with a fresh, farm-grown Christmas tree.
“It’s a longstanding family tradition for many families. People come here for the experience,” said Candle Tree Farm co-owner Bruce Leavitt, who wears coattails, a top hat and a red bow tie reminiscent of the Charles Dickens era during the holiday season on the farm. “We’ve reached the point where we’re getting the children of some of our first customers who are coming back to get trees for their own families.”
Leavitt, a hydrogeologist, started growing fresh trees on his 97-acre-farm in 1986, and has been selling them for more than 25 years. He said he normally sells more than 1,000 trees each season.
For families who travel far distances in search of just the right Fraser fir or Colorado spruce, an artificial tree doesn’t compare.
“We’ve had real trees for as long as I can remember,” said Susie Rich of Washington, who recently visited Candle Tree Farm with her husband Ricci and their 10-week-old daughter, Blakely. “I love the smell. It’s more natural and authentic. Growing up, we actually had both an artificial tree and a live tree because my mom didn’t like real trees, so she’d put up an artificial one. But ever since I was little, my dad would take my sister and me to pick out a live one.”
At Candle Tree Farm, customers ride in a tractor-drawn wagon to the rows of perfectly manicured trees, where they are free to grab a saw and cut down a tree, or have a cutter do the work for them.
The staff at Candle Tree shakes loose needles from the tree in an area behind the barn and nets the tree, if requested. It’s an option most tree buyers choose because it’s easier to move the tree into the house, said Leavitt. After the tree is loaded, customers are treated to a cup of hot chocolate or coffee before heading home.
The most popular tree variety is the Fraser fir, said Leavitt, because of its look, needle retention and softness.
“It really is the Cadillac of Christmas trees. But everyone has their own idea of what is the perfect tree for them,” said Leavitt.
The farm grows six varieties of trees, including favorites like Scotch pine, blue spruce and Douglas fir. It also sells a variety of wreaths made from fresh greens.
Among the advantages of real trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Association: living trees generate oxygen, provide a habitat for birds and animals and, after the holidays, they can be recycled and turned into compost.
Most tree farms – including Candle Tree and Kent Tree farms - plant about five new trees for every tree cut down during the Christmas season.
Kent Tree Farm in Spraggs, Greene County, has become a go-to Christmas tree farm since the Marisa family bought the property, lined with about 10,000 fir, spruce and pine trees, five years ago.
The Marisas hold an annual “Old Fashioned Christmas Tree Sale,” with food and craft vendors and wagon rides, which has grown in popularity each year.
While the Christmas tree sale is being held this weekend, trees are available for purchase throughout the Christmas season. Wesley Kent lives on the property and helps customers select, cut and load their trees.
“Cutting a Christmas tree down yourself gives you a nostalgic feeling,” said Autumn Marisa. “This place is a gem, but it’s not easy to get here, so we cater more toward the experience, with hot chocolate, S’mores and wagon rides out to the tree fields. We see families coming back year after year from Cranberry, Oakmont, Butler and other places to have this experience. It’s funny – people come out to the country in small compact cars and fall in love with a 12-foot tree.”
This year, the Marisa family will donate 10 percent of the total sales from the Christmas tree event to the Social Service League in Waynesburg for Christmas gifts for local underprivileged children. Donations from vendors’ sales, along with any donations from customers, also will be presented to the league.
“We feel an obligation to give back to the community,” said Marisa, noting the family raised nearly $5,000 for the league last year.
“You can do an artificial tree, but this is all about the experience of the holidays,” said Marisa. “I don’t think anything compares to a real tree.”