Saturday I stood looking out my front window staring at the gloomy sky and tiny snowflakes swirling in the strong winds. After conferring with the weather app on my phone I decided it wasn’t going to get any nicer, and Sunday looked to be just as yucky.

I put on my snow boots, scarf, coat, heavy gloves and grabbed my camera bag. With Thanksgiving leftovers still in my fridge, admitting it’s time to think about Christmas is a tough reality. And yet I drove right to The Pine Patch Christmas tree farm. This was a first for me. I’ve never taken photos at a Christmas tree farm and I’ve never picked out a real tree.

Growing up I never thought twice about my family’s artificial tree. It was all I knew. Loved ones with allergies simply meant our tree was fake and that was that.

One childhood friend’s family sprayed their tree with pine scent to really get in the spirit but only one childhood friend had a real tree. I remember watching her dad water it during a birthday slumber party, realizing my tree at home was less messy and required less attention.

As a big fan of pumpkin patches, I will admit I was excited to experience the same festive atmosphere, just in the form of Christmas cheer. Thankfully I was not disappointed.

Having never ventured to a tree farm, my only references come from Hollywood. You know, the cheesy Made-for-TV movies where the broken-hearted big city girl goes home for Christmas and falls in love with her high school sweetheart who just happens to be selling trees. Or A Christmas Story, where the dad begins to talk about artificial trees in order to bargain with the salesman. And then there’s Christmas Vacation, where the Griswold family trudges through knee-deep snow on a search for the perfect tree only to realize Clark forgot the saw.

I watched as children — whose excitement seemed to make them immune to the cold wind — ran back and forth between two trees deciding which would be the best fit for their home. They considered the tree’s height, the fullness, how much room there would be for gifts underneath.

After selecting their tree, they urged their grandpa to get one slightly shorter than last year so he actually had room to put a star on top. My family’s artificial tree was always the same size so I never even considered that problem.

I had also never considered what happens between selecting your tree and getting it to the car.

Once you’ve made your choice, a few Hastings College football players carry your tree away. If it was precut, they saw the very bottom off the trunk so it’s not muddy and snowy and easy to water at home. Next they stand it up and a machine shakes it so loose needles fall off. Finally they put it through a plastic funnel-looking chute that wraps the tree in a netting so it’s nice and compact. You never see that on TV!

Though weather conditions at The Pine Patch were a touch on the gloomy side, the festive atmosphere was charming. The recent snowfall added to the scenery, blanketing the ground between the trees and the little red building on the property. Inside the building hung wreaths, bows and lights. A big container sat full of candy canes for visitors.

While I witnessed no particular epic tree adventures quite like the movies, it was still clear I was witnessing tradition for multiple families. There was no bartering and no one’s eyes were frozen. Folks were going home with a tree tied to the top of their car, a sure sign that the holiday season had begun at their house.

Everyone’s celebration is a little different. For some, yuletide traditions include hot chocolate and a trip to pick a tree. Others sit anxiously in the living room waiting for dad to lug the giant box up from the basement so tree trimming can begin while cookies bake.

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