Having a fun, old-fashioned family Christmas in Kandiyohi County is so simple, even Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase in 1989's "Christmas Vacation" couldn't screw it up. What better way to kick off an old-fashioned Christmas than to begin a family tradition of cutting down your own Christmas tree?
Deemed "the most important of Christmas symbols" by Griswold himself, the Christmas tree in many families is a sure indicator that Christmas is in full swing.
Griswold chose to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape to select his Christmas tree himself, but more than 75 percent of nearly 200 West Central Tribune readers said they would rather pull the artificial tree from its hibernation in the storage closet than chop down a real tree of their own, according to a Web poll. Readers said sap, fire hazards, lack of time and watering duty were all deterrents of owning a real Christmas tree.
Real trees are certainly more of a labor of love than artificial trees, but many families that do chop down their own Christmas tree would agree the memories created from visits to the local tree farm far outweigh time invested in picking up pine needles out of the carpet.
Family loyalty is a testament to the joy a visit to the Christmas tree farm can bring. Ron Iverson, owner of Iverson Tree Farms south of Sacred Heart, said he has several families who have been coming to his farm for 25 years.
Debra Anderson of New London began the tradition of a fun, old-fashioned family Christmas nine years ago with her husband and three sons at Tin-Ber Hermitages in rural Belgrade.
Every Thanksgiving weekend, the Andersons spend one afternoon in the Christmas tree field until the perfect tree has been selected.
"We walk around out there for quite a while," Anderson said. "We've never just cut down the first tree we saw."
After the tree has been chopped, wrapped and loaded into the pickup, Anderson said her family always looks forward to hot cider and bars at the home of owner Bernice Grabber Tintes.
"Bernice remembered us every year," Anderson said. "Visiting in her home around the kitchen table was the best part of the experience."
Anderson's sons have started lives of their own but still carry on the Christmas tree tradition by making a trip as a family to Tin-Ber Hermitages each holiday season.
Grabber Tintes, owner of Tin-Ber Hermitages, has staff on hand in the field to assist families with the chopping and loading of trees, though she encourages families to chop their own.
"It's all a part of the experience," Tintes said.
Stacy's Nursery in Willmar also provides a true lumberjack experience for families wanting to chop their own tree. Families can make a pit-stop at the nursery to pick up a saw and rope before heading to Balsam Ridge Tree Farm just miles down the road from Stacy's Nursery. Trees can be brought back to the nursery where staff is ready to help customers place the tree in a stand.
Stacy's Nursery also provides a more domesticated approach for families who fear a hand saw in the middle of a Christmas tree field may be a bit too authentic. This past weekend -- in anticipation for this weekend, typically the nursery's busiest of the season -- staff began hanging fresh-cut trees from the ceiling in the greenhouse for customers to wander through.
"We've created an indoor forest," said Angela Fladeboe, co-owner of Stacy's Nursery. Customers not wanting to be exposed to the elements can select their Christmas tree from the faux forest.
"We can have people out with a tree strapped to their car in half an hour," Fladeboe said.
Once a tree has been selected, Fladeboe said families can enjoy roasted peanuts, Christmas cookies and hot apple cider in front of the fireplace.
Iverson Tree farm, located south of Sacred Heart near Belview, provides a happy medium for those wanting an outdoor experience but who may be skirmish about chopping down a tree on their own. Owner Ron Iverson transports people to his Christmas tree field on hayrides.
"I'm set up to handle hundreds of people at any given time," Iverson said. Iverson's farm has anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 trees available for customers, ranging in size from 3-feet to 14-feet.
Families return to Christmas tree farms year after year in search of the perfect Christmas tree, leaving with more than an evergreen strapped to the top of their car -- they leave with hot cider and cookies in their bellies and another year fun, old-fashioned family Christmas memories.