Our blessings included the Christmas tree from our farms' woodlot

Dan Hansen
It may not have been perfectly sculpted like a sheared one from a commercial lot, but the Christmas tree from our farm’s woodland had a natural beauty that brightened our home during the holiday season.

Supporting a family on a small farm during the middle years of the 20th century required maximizing all available human, animal and land resources – including our farm’s woodland.

The nearly 80 acres of forest had been purchased by my grandparents several decades before I was born. Its diversity of trees included oaks, maples and other hardwoods that supplied fuel to heat our farmhouse, and sawlogs for building and remodeling projects. Cedar trees provided fenceposts to mark field boundaries.

There were also some evergreens – primarily Balsam fir trees – suitable for use as Christmas trees. They were located mainly on a couple of higher ridges at the far end of the property.

Each year, in late November after all the crops had been harvested, Dad would go on an afternoon scouting trip in search of a suitable Christmas tree for our farmhouse. He would generally find two or three that he thought would work, and mark their location for future reference.

Then a week or so before Christmas, Dad would make the trek to where he had spotted the best trees; at times that would mean walking through knee-deep snow. After checking all the faces of each tree, he would cut the best one and bring it to the farmstead.

Sometime around age 8 or 9, when I had grown big enough to more easily navigate my way through the woods – including traversing however many inches of snow were on the ground – I would help Dad bring home the tree.

Carrying a small bow saw, I would follow Dad as he headed straight toward the trees he had previously selected. After double checking to make sure the best tree hadn’t lost key branches or sustained other damage, he would take the saw and cut the tree at the appropriate height so it would fit in our living room. 

Once the tree was down, Dad would pick up the heavy end near the bottom of the trunk, and I would pick up the other end being careful not to damage the top branch where the angel would eventually be placed. 

And we would carry the tree out to the field to where we had left a small tractor and trailer for the final leg of its journey to an unheated shed where the tree would remain until it was time to bring it into the house.

A couple of days before Christmas the tree would be brought into the house, and set in a metal three-legged stand. Some fine adjustments of the three screws in the stand might be necessary to ensure the tree stood straight, and the stand would be filled with water.

That’s when my mother took over. She was in charge of trimming the tree, carefully placing vintage ornaments – some of which my great-grandparents had brought with them from Denmark – on boughs that would properly match the size of the ornament. 

I would help her place the lights, after checking for burned out bulbs, and add a few strands of tinsel. An angel on the top branch was the finishing touch.

Then our family was ready to celebrate Christmas, thankful for our many blessings, including a Christmas tree from our farm’s woodlot.