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A Cautionary Christmas Tree Tale

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By Amy Orndorff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2007

The cutting of the Christmas tree is an important tradition in many families, but to my mother, the perfect, fresh Scotch pine makes the holiday. It is prominent in the annual family photo tucked in the hundreds of Christmas cards she sends. The same family photo that will sit on her desk all year for her co-workers to see.

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So it will be a long time before anyone in my family forgets the year of the gas-station Christmas tree. (In Orndorff family lore, it is outdone only by the year Dad gave Mom a colander.)

It was four years ago during a particularly busy time for our family. There was a narrow window of time between Boy Scout campouts, college finals, ice hockey and football games for us to gather as a group to cut down a Christmas tree. But my dad and brother lost track of that time while out on a hike, and by the time they returned, the window had closed. Mom cried. Dad was in trouble, and he knew it.

Out the door he flew with the two kids in tow. It was three days before Christmas, and the local stand in front of a gas station had been picked clean of decent trees weeks before. But there was one lonely Scotch pine left. It was crooked. It was gnarled. It was bare in several spots. It made Charlie Brown's tree look suitable for the White House.

But it was a coveted Scotch pine. So Dad paid too much for the pathetic sapling and heaved it into the back of the pickup. At home, he would hope for redemption, but it would not come easily.

The tree wouldn't stand up. Mom stopped yelling long enough to laugh, but for Dad it was as if his masculinity were being laughed at. He wound twine around the tree and throughout the living room. Cinder blocks were stacked around the base to prop it up.

It might not have been the worst Christmas ever (according to Mom, the colander Christmas still holds that title), but the next year -- and every year since -- we did cut our own.

I tell this cautionary tale to help all area families that have a mother like mine. Here are some farms where you can cut your own tree. You are bound to find, if not the perfect tree, at least one that can stand up without cinder blocks and twine.

Maryland

Gaver Tree Farm is my mom's new favorite place to visit. She likes its plentiful selection of trees and a place to sit down and have a cup of hot cider. Dad likes the machine that gives the tree a good shake to remove dead needles and wraps it up, making it easier to tie to the car. Gaver also offers fresh wreaths and roping. Gaver Tree Farm, 5501 Detrick Rd. in Mount Airy, is open daily from 9 to 5 through Dec. 24. 301-865-3515. http://www.gavertreefarm.com.

Applewood Farm goes well beyond the average Christmas tree farm with its festivities. Admission is $3 (children younger than 3 are free), and kids can watch a live reindeer program three times a day. Admission gets kids hayrides, holiday games, model trains and a petting zoo. Applewood Farm is north of Bel Air and open weekends from 10 to 4 through Dec. 23. 410-836-1140. http://www.applewoodfarm.org.

Virginia

Ticonderoga Farms has a diverse crop of trees and plenty of family holiday activities, but one of the things that makes this farm special is its commitment to being environmentally friendly. Trees are available to plant at home, and if you cut a tree, the farm encourages you to bring it back after the holidays. Ticonderoga recycles the trees beginning the weekend after Christmas. The farm is near South Riding and open Monday through Saturday from 8 to dark and Sundays from 9 to dark through Dec. 24. 703-327-4424. http://www.ticonderoga.com.

Elysium Tree Farm is a regular stop for many in the area, particularly because it's a small family operation. Elysium's owners send out a newsletter to keep in touch with families that come year after year and always offer homemade treats to visitors. Families are encouraged to (and often do!) bring picnics. Elysium Tree Farm is near Rapidan in Orange County and is open Fridays from 1 to dark and weekends from 9 to dark until sold out. 540-672-4512.


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