Decorated with tradition

Move over Thanksgiving turkey – it’s time to find the perfect Christmas tree
By: Michelle Miller-Carl Gold Country News Service
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As Jody Summers’ children have grown up, there’s been one holiday tradition that has remained the same: chopping down the family Christmas tree at Snowy Peaks Christmas Tree Farm in Foresthill. The Summers family of Auburn will be just one family scouring one of the area’s many tree farms to find the perfect Douglas fir or Scotch pine to welcome into their homes for the season. “It’s just a quaint experience,” Summers said of visiting a tree farm. “It’s a beautiful location you get to walk around to pick your tree. There’s hot chocolate. It’s really the experience more than it is about the tree. I’m sure they have a lot of beautiful trees, but a concrete lot is not the same.” Summers and her three children have been going to the farm for 10 years. Even though her daughter Hayley is off at college, the family will sneak in this year’s trip while she’s back for a Thanksgiving visit. “We would never think of going without all of (the kids),” Summers said. Snowy Peaks has been drawing families up to its snow-dappled acreage overlooking the Crystal Mountains in Foresthill for 25 years. For the last 10, the farm has been owned by Ginger and Jim Armstrong. Visitors are given a brochure when they drive through the gates. Then they park and are given a saw and a ticket. “Then you take the saw and trundle out over 55 acres to find your perfect tree,” Ginger Armstrong said. Tree hunters can cut down any tree 5 feet or taller, but tree felling experts are there to help with any tree over 10 feet (the farm also supplies 60-foot trees to malls and plazas throughout Northern California). Once the tree is chopped down, guests attach their ticket to it (keeping the stub) and farm staff transports the tree to the front of the farm for payment and netting. Meanwhile, guests can enjoy the bonfire, wagon rides (weather permitting), and a tree swing suspended between two ponderosa pines that attracts kids young and old. Some Christmas aficionados show up at 9 a.m. the Friday after Thanksgiving, Snowy Peaks’ opening day. “They love Christmas so much they slam the turkey in the fridge and make sure the tree is up by noon,” Armstrong said. Another farm that opened last weekend is Poppy Lane Christmas Farm in Auburn, where you can score pre-cut red fir, white fir and Douglas fir trees. If you ask owner Larry Powell which is the best tree, he’ll recommend the red fir, also known as a silver tip. “It’s a higher elevation tree, so it’s real hardy,” he said. “I’m ready for the red fir challenge to use one for two Christmases.” As a member of the California Christmas Tree Association, Poppy Lane displays pre-cut trees that are certified fresh. But the star of Poppy Lane might be Poppy the Pony, who has had many a child placed on his back for a photo op. “That is the most photographed pony in Auburn,” Powell said. “I think he owns that title.” Poppy Lane is also one of the few farms open on Christmas Eve, which is much appreciated by families looking for a last-minute tree. “People do (come on Christmas Eve),” Powell said. “They’ll say, ‘our daughter came in late for Christmas and we didn’t know she was coming.’ We get a lot of ‘bless yous’ (for staying open).” Powell is also going green this year by stressing the environmental benefits of living Christmas trees: they are biodegradable and recyclable (Poppy Lane offers tree recycling, regardless of where you got your tree). With 8,000 trees to choose from, it’s rare that someone won’t find exactly what they’re looking for at Pine Valley Ranch in Auburn. But owner Bob Hane said some people are very particular about what type of tree they get. “Lots of people will only buy a grand fir, some only buy a Scotch. Lots are only Douglas,” he said. “I think it has to do with personal taste.” Hane also gets a lot of questions about which trees have the longest-lasting needles or which trees carry the most ornaments. His answer is that all of the trees will do the job, if you make sure the tree is freshly cut and keep it watered. “When you go to the ranch and cut your own, you’re taking a little personal time, more than you normally would in such hectic, busy lives we have,” he said. “It’s a slow-down period. It’s a wonderful time of year, but life for most people gets hectic. But when you get out and walk through the trees, get some fresh air and hot chocolate, you slow down a bit.”