Shoppers young and old get into holiday spirit by finding a fir to bring home, decorate
Sunday was a good day for 11-year-old Emmett Breen.
He had gone all the way down a hill in Preston to find a satisfactorily large fir tree, watched his father cut it down, initialed the bottom with a marker and had some hot chocolate while waiting for farm workers to haul the tree back to the parking lot.
"I thought it was cool," said Emmett, who was picking up a freshly cut Christmas tree for the first time with his father, Bryce Breen, at Maple Lane Farms in Preston.
The Breens, who used to have a small artificial tree, said they have wanted to do this for years. They braved the wet weather on Sunday because they wanted to fill their house with the smell of a real, living tree, and will spend the coming days decorating it with hand-drawn, laminated ornaments while listening to holiday music.
The 35 acres of Christmas tree fields at Maple Lane Farms opened the day after Thanksgiving, and customers can cut down their own trees until Christmas Eve. The coming two weekends will most likely be the busiest of the season, said Maple Lane owner Allyn Brown.
But Brown said he's seen no shortage of families coming out earlier this year, despite a sometimes rainy weekend. Those who have already purchased a tree from the farm don't have to worry about whether it will be in good condition by Christmas, added Brown, who expects firs cut this weekend to hold their needles "easily through the first of the year."
Customers at Maple Lane Farms will find only fir trees, because Brown discovered that spruces seemed to shed their needles too quickly. The farm includes Fraser firs, which Brown described as a "very sought after" tree with a short needle and somewhat blue underside, as well as the longer-needled Balsam and Canaan firs.
Christmas trees were the first crop Brown grew when he started Maple Lane Farms in 1978. He said it takes about eight years to grow a tree to about 7 or 8 feet tall, the most popular height.
"You can't get into it overnight," said Brown, whose farm offers trees up to 12 feet tall.
Kimberly Taylor arrived at Maple Lane Farms with her husband and 13-year-old daughter in search of one of the larger trees. It was the fifth farm the Hebron family explored that day, said Taylor, because they've found most trees to be short and not very full this year.
Although families like the Breens and Taylors didn't mind risking a little rain, mist and mud in their quest for the perfect tree, others took their holiday shopping inside over the weekend.
The parking lot of a warm, dry garden center in Salem was packed around 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Burnett's Country Gardens had lured people in by offering cookies, hot chocolate, photos with Santa, personalized ornaments and raffles to those shopping for holiday greenery.
The owner's dogs, Marley and Jackson, wandered in between customers as they peered at pink, cream and deep red poinsettias, holly, wreaths and seasonal crafts. There are also rows of pre-cut Fraser firs, which arrived from a family farm in North Carolina at 7 a.m. Friday.
Erin Spohr of East Haddam, who described herself as a loyal customer of the garden center, said she already has a tree but was planning to purchase one of the garden center's custom-made wreaths. She peered at the greenery and ornaments that lined with walls while her husband stood nearby, holding their 2-year-old daughter Madeline as she sucked on a candy cane.
Nearby, Kim Foster of walked among the rows of trees with her 12-year-old daughter Isabelle. The Fosters usually cut their own tree and had come to the garden center to look for a wreath and take advantage of the day's special events.
But Kim Foster, who said she's usually very particular about the tree, found herself perusing the firs as Isabelle called out to her to look at one, then another. Eventually, Isabelle convinced her mother, bragging that she'd been allowed to select the Christmas tree for the first time ever.
She's also positive that she'll find the pickle her mother hides among the branches when decorating, a German tradition. The person who finds the pickle earns an extra gift, the triumphant 12-year-old explained.