It’s almost time I was out looking for this year’s Christmas tree, although I’ll hold off until after deer hunting season is over next weekend. With a 130 acre woodlot, covered mostly with balsam fir, it might seem finding a decent Christmas tree would be a piece of cake, but it isn’t. Nature has this redundancy thing going, in that firs, which naturally regenerate, tend to grow in clumps all jammy-packed together. Consequently, even though there are tens of thousands—maybe hundreds of thousands—of fir trees on our property, very few of them, at least ones of Christmas tree size, are straight and evenly proportioned.
The secret of growing good Christmas trees is to thin the stands when the trees are seedlings, but unless you’re in the Christmas tree business, it’s hard to find the time.
I’m a Christmas tree purist. I prefer a dark green balsam fir (Abies balsamea) with long needles and a fairly bushy shape, but one that grew naturally with no artificial shape-shearing—let alone one made in China from plastic and aluminum.
The fragrant Balsam Fir is the perfect Christmas tree, with its soft dark green needles, symmetrical shape and distinctive aroma. As one Nova Scotia grower puts it, the Balsam Fir is Christmas. Of course, Douglas Fir or other popular Christmas tree species fanciers might dispute that!
The first record of a decorated Christmas was in Riga, Latvia in 1510, and the first printed reference to Christmas trees appeared in Germany in 1531.
And when Britain’s Queen Victoria married Germany’s Prince Albert in 1840, he brought the tradition to London. Pictures of the British Royal Family and their Christmas tree appeared in newspapers, and thousands of people in Canada, the United States, and England soon began decorating their own trees.
However, it’s likely that Germans who emigrated to the U.S. and Canada in the 1700s set up their own trees long before the British royals popularized the practice.
The first Christmas tree retail lot in the United States was reportedly started in 1851 in New York by Mark Carr. In 1856, Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, was the first President to place a Christmas tree in the White House. President Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923.
Today, the top selling Christmas trees are Balsam fir, Douglas fir; Fraser fir, Noble fir, Scotch pine and White pine, and about a third of Christmas trees displayed in United States will be real trees; the rest artificial trees.
How to Pick the Perfect Real Christmas Tree
Not everyone is fortunate enough to live on a large woodlot in ideal Christmas tree growing country, but you can still find a nice real, grown-in-the-ground tree. For instance, the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association says that the Friday after Thanksgiving isn’t just about holiday sales and turkey leftovers. It also marks the beginning of Christmas tree season for many choose-and-cut farms and retail lots, and they suggest that before heading out to purchase a Christmas tree, a little preparation goes a long way.
Make a Plan
Before leaving home, know what size and type of tree will best fit your space.
Measure the ceiling height in the room where the tree will be displayed. Leave extra space for a tree stand and tree topper.
Measure the width of the area of the room where the tree will be displayed. Most trees on tree farms are sheared to an 80 percent taper. For example, a tree that’s 10 feet tall will be 8 feet wide at the bottom. A tree that will fit in the room vertically might be too big horizontally.
Consider your decorations. Some trees have more open foliage, stiffer branches or longer needles.
Know Your Tree
If you don’t know what species of tree you prefer, here are a few comparative characteristics.
- Balsam fir – a relatively dense tree with a slender, spire-like tip. It has a dark-green appearance, long-lasting needles and retains its pleasing fragrance.
- Fraser fir – similar to the Balsam fir with a pyramid shape and strong branches that are turned slightly upwards. Its form, needle retention, dark blue-green color and pleasant scent have made it a popular choice.
- Scotch pine – known for its long needles and stiff branches, which are well suited for decorating. It has good needle retention and holds up well throughout the holiday season.
- Colorado blue spruce – an increasingly popular species due to its symmetrical form and unique blue foliage. It has an attractive natural shape.
- White spruce – has a conical form that extends to the ground. White spruce has a lovely foliage color, short stiff needles and good natural shape.
- Eastern white pine – one of the largest pines in the United States. White pine has very little aroma, and is reported to result in fewer allergic reactions than more aromatic species.
- White fir – also known as concolor fir. It has good foliage color, a pleasing natural shape and aroma, and good needle retention.
- Douglas-fir – a popular species, unrelated to true firs, with dark green or blue green needles that are soft to the touch and radiate out in all directions from the branch.
- Canaan fir – a relative newcomer to the Christmas tree market with similarities to Fraser and Balsam firs.
Choosing A Christmas Tree Lot
Make sure the lot is well-lit and trees are stored in a shaded area.
Run a branch through your enclosed hand – the needles should not come off easily.
Bend the outer branches; they should be pliable. However, if the outside temperature is below freezing, the branches might break because they are frozen.
Look for other indicators of dryness or deterioration: excessive needle loss, discolored foliage, musty odor, needle pliability, and wrinkled bark. When in doubt about the freshness of a tree, select another one.
Choosing a Choose-and-Cut Farm
If you want to get more hands-on in touch with the Christmas tree acquisition experience, there’s the choose-and-cut farm alternative.
Go to the farm prepared for a day in the country. Wear comfortable shoes and old clothes. Anyone planning to cut or load the tree should bring gloves. And don’t forget the camera! Leave pets at home.
Saws are usually provided by the farm operator, but check ahead of time.
Ask about pricing before heading out into the field. Some farms measure and price their trees individually; others sell them by the foot.
Head out to the field and select the tree that fits your predetermined needs. Check the trunk to be sure that it is sufficiently straight. Keep in mind that pines will usually have at least some crook in their trunks. Also check that the tree trunk butt has a sufficiently long handle to accommodate your stand.
For more tree tips, visit christmastrees-wi.org.
While I’m not a fan of full-size artificial Christmas trees, I do like the virtual ones you can have on your Mac Desktop. Here are some Christmas trees for the Mac.
X-MasTree 1.4 – A Christmas Tree for your Mac
For those who love the holidays and want to decorate everything starting with their tree to their garden, there is now an application that allows them to decorate their desktop as well. Part of the fun of Christmas season is decorating their Mac.
There are many applications out there that help users do this, but most of them don’t focus on the most important thing: the tree. The Christmas Tree for Your Mac is a desktop freeware application developed by John Schilling.
X-Mas Tree is a simple and free application with a few great settings so that users can customize their desktops trees to their heart’s content. The little app has ornaments, tinsel, popcorn strands, flashing lights, bobbles and even a star. And in case users forget how many days are left until Christmas, the app counts down the days, so anybody can feel like a kid again anxiously awaiting the 25th.
There are many options, including which color lights to display, lighting modes (static, blinking or fading), a few ornaments, and a badge displaying days left until Christmas. Warning: setting the lighting mode to “fade” will beat the living snot out of your CPU.
X-MasTree is 159% Freeware. X-MasTree may be freely distributed, as long as no fees are collected for it.
Christi’s Tree 2.1 Desktop Christmas Tree W/Christmas Countdown In Dock
Christi’s Tree is simply a Christmas Tree for your Mac. It sits on your desktop or in your dock to give your Mac that extra little bit of holiday cheer.
The tree has lots of great features. You can add decorations like cranberry garland, red Christmas balls, and even flashing lights. It works in your dock, or as a floating window. And best of all, it’s free.
This is Christi’s Tree with the cranberry garland and the red Christmas balls. If you can see that the balls are actually tiny glassy aqua-style balls.
This is Christi’s Tree configured with no decorations excep the star on top. It’s nice and simple. Just a tree.
This is Christi’s tree configured with everything. It’s even got the flashing lights—although they look better when they’re actually going. This screenshot makes them look a bit more psychedelic than maybe they really are.
Christi’s Tree is freeware.
Product [Christi’s Tree for Mac]
TreetopLights 2.4 Desktop Christmas Tree And Animated Lights
TreetopLights is an AppleScript Studio application that places a Christmas tree on the desktop and holiday lights on the menubar or screen edges. The desktop tree can be decorated with blinking or fading lights, ornaments, a treetop star, and perhaps some snow. The ambient lighting can be controlled for the appearance of a dimly or brightly lit room, and the transparency and size of the tree can be set to keep it out of the way, or set the perfect holiday mood. The optional but festive menubar lights can blink or glow to decorate the menubar, or even go around the screen. A countdown timer displaying days until Christmas, and the twelve days of Christmas are also included for on-tree display. There’s also an option to send a Christmas greeting through Apple’s Mail application.
TreetopLights is free, and will only run under Mac OS X 10.3 or later.
Product [TreetopLights 2.4]
Christmas Tree Creator 2004 Makes Animated Christmas Trees
Christmas Tree Creator ’04 is the latest version of the previous Christmas Tree Creator software.
Use Tree Creator to create fun digital Christmas trees by adding drag-and-drop ornaments and lights. Apply the editing tools to get everything just the way you want it, then share your creations by printing greeting cards, posters, emailing friends, or viewing your trees as animated screen savers.
Despite the name, this is the current version. Christmas Tree Creator ’04 is freeware.
Product [Christmas Tree Creator 2004]
The Perfect Tree 2.0 – Spruce Up The Perfect Christmas Tree
Spruce up your Christmas season with The Perfect Tree, a cheerful holiday offering from Anawiki Games. Based on the classic Christmas tale of the same name, the game tells the story of a lonely little pine tree and the player’s efforts to help it become the perfect Christmas tree.
The Perfect Tree features classic Match-3 mechanics, enhanced by numerous exciting power-ups, seasonal level design and gorgeous special effects. Earn stars by chaining together combos and by clearing levels as quickly as possible, then trade them in for lights, ornaments, garlands and presents to turn the poor, pitiful pine into a beautiful Christmas tree of your own design.
With its bright, cheerful graphics and positive message, The Perfect Tree is a holiday treat for the whole family. Whether you’re looking for a way to unwind after a tiring day of Christmas shopping, or for something to distract your little ones until the 25th.
- Create your very own perfect tree
- Magnificent match-3 mechanics
- Exciting power-ups and gorgeous special effects
- Beautiful white Christmas atmosphere
- 110 levels, packed with Christmas cheer
- Over 100 items to decorate your tree
- Cheery, seasonal soundtrack
The full, unlimited version is available at the regular price of $10.21 CAD. The promo price of $2.99 – use coupon NEW299.
Product [The Perfect Tree 2.0 ]
Christmas Tree Bounce 1.0 Bouncing Christmas Tree Screen Saver
Christmas Tree Bounce is a new Mac OS X screen saver that simply takes an image of a basic Christmas Tree and uses gravity to bounce it on the screen (various times).
The screensaver is small (116 KB) and uses very little system resources.
In theory, you can edit the package of the Screen Saver and replace the tree.png file with your own file (keep the name the same though, and be aware of the dimensions to make sure it doesn’t look odd). I’ve tried this and it does work.
This saver should work with 10.4 onwards, but only really guarantees 10.4.9 onwards.
Christmas Tree Bounce is free and supports PPC and Intel Macs.
Products [Christmas Tree Bounce]
Happy Tree Icons 1.0
Happy Tree Icons is a set of four colorful tree icons to green your desktop.
Happy Tree Icons is free, and requires a PPC or Intel Mac running Mac OS X 10.0 or later.
Product [Happy Tree Icons]