When I was growing up I had a friend whose family used to put up an artificial aluminum Christmas tree every year; pink.
I remember one particular Christmas that same family had an ornament of a smiling Elvis Presley hanging on their pink tree — just above the manger scene they had neatly tucked under it. I know.
Those of you counting at home could reasonably argue that their version of the Nativity actually had four kings instead of three. But I digress.
Frankly, pink artificial aluminum Christmas trees make me cringe — or artificial trees of any other material or color. (Even if they’re forest-green.) Sorry.
Christmas Trees Are Big Business
When it comes to the holiday season I demand a fresh-cut natural Christmas tree in my family room.
Apparently, a lot of people feel the same way. As recently as 2009, over 28 million commercial Christmas trees were sold in the US resulting in $1.2 billion in revenue.
Now, if you’re like me, you’ll probably end up buying your tree pre-cut from a big-box home improvement center or a Christmas tree lot.
But if you’re really fortunate, you live close to a farm that grows Christmas trees and cuts them on the spot.
When I was growing up my family used to go to a commercial Christmas tree farm every year and it was one of the highlights of the season for me.
Commercial Christmas tree prices depend on several variables including the type of tree. For example, where I live, noble firs are typically more expensive than the Douglas variety.
Price also depends on tree height, and whether or not you want it flocked so it looks like it has a dusting of fresh snow on it.
Get too carried away and you can easily spend well over $100.
Picking the Perfect Tree
Picking the perfect Christmas tree is very similar to finding the perfect Christmas gift — they both require effort.
I know what you’re thinking: “So, Len, just how hard is it?”
Actually, it’s as easy as 1-2-3. In fact, picking a Christmas tree is so easy, even good ol’ Charlie Brown can do it. Well … assuming he follows these three steps:
Step 1. Know how much tree you can get BEFORE you leave the house.
Size matters. As a kid, I remember the year my family brought home this big beautiful tree only to find out, after hosing it down and putting it in the Christmas tree stand, that it was just too tall for our living room. Not only did my dad buy more tree than he had to but, sadly, he also had to butcher it before it would finally fit in our house.
The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) recommends that you measure the height and width of the space where you plan on putting your tree. As a guideline, they also say that your allocated width should be 80 percent of the height. Sure, your foyer’s cathedral ceiling may easily accommodate a ten-foot tree, but if it doesn’t have eight feet available horizontally as well, then you’ll need to scale back your ambitions and find a shorter tree.
Step 2. Determine the species that best meets your needs.
When it comes to selecting the perfect Christmas tree, the secret is in identifying your own personal preferences regarding such things as the tree’s color and fragrance, and the softness of the needles. If you plan on having your tree for several weeks you’ll also need to make sure you purchase a tree variety that tends to hold its needles over a long period of time once it’s harvested.
Those who are serious about decorating their tree should also consider how well a particular variety is able to accommodate ornaments. For example, some tree varieties have more space between branches. If you have heavy ornaments, you’ll also want to ensure you get a tree with stiffer branches.
Once you figure out which tree best meets your needs, then look for a farm or retailer that carries the Christmas tree species you’re looking for.
Personally, I prefer Douglas firs; I love the long needles and I think they smell great. The Honeybee happens to be a big fan of Noble firs. (Guess what kind of tree we get every year.)
While you’re struggling with that little pop quiz, here’s a chart that summarizes the traits of some of the most popular Christmas tree varieties:
Step 3. Make sure you buy a fresh tree.
Of course, when you buy your tree at a Christmas tree farm you know you are getting the freshest tree you possibly can. However, a lot of people don’t have that luxury. The National Christmas Tree Association provides these helpful tips for folks who will be buying Christmas trees from a retail lot:
- Be sure to buy your trees from a retail lot that is well-lit and stores their trees in a shaded area.
- To ensure maximum freshness, ask the Christmas tree retailer when the trees were delivered.
- Perform a freshness test. If the tree is a fir: fresh green fir needles will break crisply — like a fresh carrot. However, if the tree is a pine the opposite is true. That is, fresh green pine needles will NOT break. Got that?
- Be on the lookout for other signs of an old tree including: a musty odor, wrinkled bark, discoloration, and excessive needle loss.
- When in doubt about the freshness of a tree, pick another one. If you have to, find another retailer.
See? Picking the perfect Christmas tree isn’t that difficult at all! In fact, it’s so simple even I can do it.
And if you’re still doubting yourself, stop. After all, the worst real Christmas tree will always be better than a pink aluminum one.
Photo Credit: Wolf Savard
(This is an updated article that was originally posted on November 22, 2010)