Sunday my family went on an expedition of sorts to get our Christmas tree. We do this every year, usually as Thanksgiving Weekend is fading into memory. I am not sure how the tradition started, but it just feels right to be putting ornaments on a freshly illuminated tree the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, as we sip hot cocoa and listen to carols on cable television Sounds of the Season channel. Over the years, retrieval of the perfect tree has changed somewhat, but the symbolism has not. To us the tree represents being together as a family, celebrating abundant joy and peace at Christmastime.
Our first Christmas as a married couple, Van and I were in a tiny apartment with very little money and one giant potted Norfolk Pine in the corner of our living room. It became our Christmas tree, with one string of lights and a few diminutive ornaments. It drooped sadly and threatened to collapse under the weight of the baubles. After that first year we decided we would always have a real tree, never a fake, and no more Norfolk Pines. This “no fakes” rule was only broken one year, under extenuating circumstances.
In 2007, after waiting for my husband’s 15 month deployment to end, I moved all our furnishings into a great old rental house in Colorado Springs, with only two weeks to prepare for Christmas. The last detail after putting Van’s favorite edible goodies in the kitchen cupboards and spreading our new comforter across the bed was finding a tree to decorate with photographs of the family he had missed so much while he was away. After all, he would be coming home just in time for Christmas! It was as if we were living a Hallmark Channel movie! There was not enough time to go out hunting down a beautiful real tree, so a friend lent me a nice enough looking fake. But after Van’s welcome home excitement settled, we both agreed that never again would a fake tree cross our threshold.
Fast forward six years, and it is once again time to look for a tree. One major difference between getting a tree here in Kansas and getting one in South Dakota (where we lived before moving here) is that in South Dakota, we could purchase an inexpensive permit to cut down our own tree in the Black Hills. Once we had the permit, it was time for a gorgeous drive through the Hills until we spotted a stand of pretty pines. We could stroll into the wilderness, wading through snow and fallen leaves, and claim our perfect tree. In South Dakota it was our job to cut it down and load it into the vehicle to take home. In Kansas, the thrill of the hunt is somewhat diminished because there are no beautiful Black Hills for tree hunting, and the trees are already cut for the customers. So much of the grandeur is removed!
We do have a place to go that makes up for this in spades: The Rocking M Tree Farm outside of Junction City, Kansas. This Christmas tree farm is hands down the best place to buy a tree. What is it that makes Rocking M different — and better — than others? As soon as you arrive and speak with the owners it will immediately become clear how much care is put into the trees. Making money is not the priority, providing an experience for customers through the highest quality trees is most important. The owners treat their trees with dignity; even as the life is fading away (because it does, slowly, after the tree is cut down) the trees are kept in big water basins to preserve as much vitality and natural beauty as possible. This ensures that customers are purchasing the absolute best for their money!
We immediately found a big, beautiful Frasier Fir that reminded us of the lovely bluish green Spruce trees we hunted for in the Black Hills. As a family we took a vote. It was between the Fir and a nice Scotch Pine, but we unanimously chose the Fir with the soft needles and heavenly scent. The owners had lost many of their trees this year due to a prairie fire and had to source trees from other parts of the country. Our Fir had come from Wisconsin. I was impressed by the fortitude of the Rocking M owners, bringing in trees from other places so that local customers could continue to enjoy the experience of traveling to a great Christmas tree farm to pick out that perfect tree.
Our tree is voluptuous, incredibly pleasing to the eyes, and it makes our living room smell so delicious! After he set it up Van started a fire in the fireplace and we pulled out all the decorations. Van placed the star at the top and we applauded as it lit up beautifully and filled the room with a comforting glow. The girls had a wonderful time hanging their special ornaments on the tree and I loved watching them fuss over the perfect spot for their favorite, a tiny homemade Baby Jesus in a walnut shell. Once all the decorations had been placed on the tree and we had tired of the Christmas music, we stood back and took one last look before bedtime. If the tree is any indication, then I think it is safe to say that this will be a really wonderful Christmas.