SO YOU want a real Christmas tree, eh? Gleaming green plastic and eternal aluminum aren't good enough for you? And cut trees standing in crisp formation on shopping-center parking lots are too easy, too convenient? So take up tree-hunting.

These farms will sell you a Christmas tree that you have selected and cut yourself. Many also offer live, balled-and-burlapped trees that can be planted after they have served holiday duty (dig a hole before the ground freezes). In addition to their trees, some farms also sell wreaths, greens, cider, ornaments and other holiday products. Most are small family operations, so call before you visit and ask about hours, prices and availability. (Some farms will set up an appointment with you if you can't drop by during regular hours.)

Some tips:

Prices typically range from $20 to $40, depending on size and variety. Some farms sell by height ($3 to $5 per foot).

Trees look smaller under the sky than under your roof. Measure your living room before you leave and the tree before you cut it.

Dress for winter in the woods. (Your designated primary tree-handler will probably want to wear work gloves.)

Bring your own handsaw (quicker and neater than an ax) to avoid waiting for one at the farm, plus rope and a tarp to carry the tree on your car roof (more comfortable than in your lap).

At home, to keep the tree fresh longer, cut an inch off the trunk before you stand it in water.