Everyone has his or her own approach to Christmas trees. Some of us like twinkling colored lights, while others prefer the classic simplicity of white bulbs. Some deck the branches with shimmering tinsel, and others go for old-fashioned garlands of popcorn and cranberries. There are those whose ornaments coordinate perfectly with each other and those who collect whatever baubles strike their fancy. And should the tree be topped with an angel or a star? The first step, regardless of your decorating preferences, is finding just the right tree. And for a true immersion in the holiday spirit, it is hard to top a visit to a local farm, where you can wander rows of growing trees and pick the one that will best fit your home. It’s a delightful seasonal outing with a practical benefit: Buying direct from the field yields the freshest possible tree. Have we convinced you yet? Excellent. Now head to the website of the Massachusetts Christmas Tree Association to find a farm near you, or check out one of the following destinations.
CRANE NECK CHRISTMAS TREE FARM
14 Crane Neck St. and 80 Stewart St., West Newbury; 171/2 Stewart St., Groveland, cranenecktree.com
With trees growing in three different locations, Crane Neck Christmas Tree Farm offers plenty of room to roam. Or if you are feeling less ambitious, let the staff drive you out to the fields in a tractor-drawn wagon, and watch the scenery unfold. Either way, the real fun is getting a little lost among the trees, says owner Jeb Brackbill.
“Probably the best part of the experience is just being out amongst the rows and rows of Christmas trees and wandering around,” he says. “For children, it’s hide-and-go-seek among the Christmas trees.”
Crane Neck adds even a bit more fun to the adventure by scattering photo opportunities throughout the fields—painted wooden figures of elves and snowmen with a space for playful tree-hunters to put their faces. Two locations will start selling trees on November 22; the third opens the Friday after Thanksgiving. If you are looking for a large tree—in the 10-foot range—Brackbill suggests shopping as early as possible, before the farm sells out. Several varieties of tree are available: Douglas and Fraser firs, as well as blue and Norway spruce.
If venturing out to the fields is not in the cards for your family, the farm also sells precut trees at its Crane Neck Street location in West Newbury. All trees are recently harvested from the farm’s own fields. “You’re going to get a fresh tree when you come to us,” Brackbill says.
TURKEY HILL FARM
380 Middle Rd., Haverhill, turkeyhillfarm.com
On November 1 each year, the cars start parking in the Turkey Hill Farm lot at about 7:30 in the morning, says owner David Butt. For the next hour, customers gather at the edge of the fields waiting for their signal. Then, at 8:30, a horn sounds and they’re off, racing to find that perfect tree and claim it as their own. They will tag and pay for their chosen tree that day, then return after Thanksgiving to cut it down and bring it home for decorating.
“They all run like crazy to look for a tree,” Butt says. “People really do take to it and make fun out of it.”
As many as 50 percent of Turkey Hill’s trees can go in that one day, he says. But the farm can also accommodate those looking for a more relaxed tree-shopping experience. There are usually good options available up until days before Christmas, Butt says, and hot and cold cider are available to customers as they peruse the selection. Perched on top of a hill, the compact farm offers easy access to the entire selection of trees and scenic views of the surrounding landscape.
“The trees kind of flow down the hill all around, 360 degrees,” Butt says. Turkey Hill, which sold its first trees in 1986, has become a long-standing tradition in some families, Butt says.
Children who came to the farm in the 1980s and ’90s have now grown up, and they bring their own children for tree-cutting expeditions.
The trees include Fraser firs, blue spruce, Douglas firs, and Canaan firs. If you’re worried about quality, fret not: Turkey Hill’s Fraser fir won best in show at the Topsfield Fair last year, and the farm’s blue spruce took first place in its class.
315 South Bradford St., North Andover, smolakfarms.com/trees
The tree-cutting experience at Smolak Farms starts at the “Red Shed,” a tiny structure perched on the edge of the fields. While parents check in and put down a deposit on a saw, kids can warm themselves by the fire and perhaps indulge in some complimentary s’mores. Once the formalities are complete, stroll or drive— cars are welcome anywhere there isn’t snow—onto one of the three tree fields to start searching out the ideal evergreen.
“We really want people to come and enjoy the whole day,” says Adam Sapienza, head of festivals for the farm.
The fields are open for business the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Tree choices include Fraser and Douglas firs—the latter, Sapienza says, lose their needles more easily but smell “just like Christmas should smell.” Each of the lots is manned by a staffer who will lug your tree back to your vehicle.
Once the tree is chosen and secured to your car, there is plenty more Christmas available at Smolak Farms. Just a short hop up the road, the farmstand’s barn hosts Santa’s Village. Hot chocolate, cider, and house-made doughnuts are available for nourishment. There are arts and crafts activities for the children, along with a chance to chat with the big man himself. When Santa isn’t busy listening to wish lists, he mingles with his young visitors, Sapienza says. “You’ll get a little more quality time with Santa.”
WHAT KIND OF TREE DO I WANT?
A Christmas tree is a Christmas tree, right? Not exactly. The farms of the North Shore offer several species, each with its own characteristics and quirks. So read on to determine what tree is right for your holiday celebrations.
A classic Christmas tree, the Douglas fir has soft dark green needles and a strong fragrance but doesn’t have the same needle retention as other members of the fir family.
Very similar in appearance to the Douglas fir, Frasers have superior needle retention—but a weaker fragrance—and silver lines on the underside of the needles.
One of the more distinctive Christmas tree options, blue spruce bears stiff, sharp blue- gray needles. Blue spruce has good needle retention, but the needles emit an unpleasant smell when crushed.
The white spruce has short, stiff needles that are a bit longer than those of its blue cousin. The branches sport green foliage and, sometimes, tiny pinecones.