While 16th century Christian Germans are usually credited with first hauling evergreenery indoors and decorating or celebrating it for spiritual purposes, the practice goes back many thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians, the Vikings of Scandinavia, the Early Romans and the Druids of Northern Europe and Britain all celebrated solstice-related events by honoring a living symbol of eternal life, the tree that stays green when everything else dies.
Do you follow this tradition? If so, you probably know that bringing a fresh-cut tree into your house is like welcoming a benevolent guest: It takes up space, has a presence, and requires some attention which it rewards by sharing a sense of the mystery that comes from having lived its entire life outdoors.
You have to figure out how to get it home from wherever you acquired it. Your fresh tree drinks a lot of water—around a quart each day, for starters. You know that dropped needles are inevitable. There’s the sad goodbye, too, as you eventually haul it to the curb.
If you’d like to get started in the live tree tradition—or maybe improve on the one you already keep—read this.
Into the wild: Each year, the Forest Service sells permits for Christmas tree cutting on national forest land. It’s a full- day event with plenty of rules—hey, it’s the government—so make sure you’re doing it right before you go. Also keep in mind that real trees, the ones that nature grows, come in quite the variety of shapes and colors. Don’t presume the ordinary.
Pro: This can be a fun family tradition. It also helps thin trees in monitored areas and is less expensive than purchasing a tree from a lot.
Con: Organization and patience are required, along with a good sense of direction. You’ll drive a bit; there’s more of a carbon footprint. You’ll want a sharp saw.
Tip: The closest places to Salt Lake that sell tree-cutting permits are in Evanston, Wyoming and Spanish Fork. The Evanston Ranger District Office will sell permits during regular business hours. Only one permit ($10) is allowed per household. Info: 307-789-3194.
The Spanish Fork Ranger District will sell permits until December 24 at the district office. One tree permit ($10) per adult will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis until 400 tags are sold. Only pinyon pine or juniper trees 20 feet tall or shorter may be cut, and only within the Vernon area located in Tooele County on the Spanish Fork Ranger District. Info: 801-798-3571.
For more information: http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/uwcnf/passes-permits/forestproducts
The asphalt field: Trees are also available for purchase from bigbox store parking lots, nurseries and other places around town.
Con: If your tree was trucked in on the back of a trailer from far away, it can be hard to tell exactly how fresh it is and how many needles will be left on by the time Santa comes. Sometimes trees are sprayed with a food-grade dye to disguise dryness; avoid if you want to keep your tree for more than a week or so.
Tip: Fresh needles and branches are pliant. The needles and bough should bend easily without breaking or falling off. You can also perform the drop test. Lift the tree up a few inches and drop on the trunk end. It’s natural for there to be some brown needles on the inner branches.
Off to the tree farm: A good compromise between hunting the forest and haunting the parking lot for the perfect specimen is a visit to a tree farm.
Pro: Locally grown and purchased trees support our local growers. Some tree farms provide saws.
Con: Same as for federal lands, only the adventure is more domesticated. It will also cost more than the Forest Service trees.
Tip: You’ll find numerous cut-your-own farms around northern Utah. Farms in Davis, Utah, Morgan and Weber Counties have Scotch pine, balsam fir, white spruce, Austrian pine and more. Call before you go to confirm hours, prices and whether you need to bring your own saw. Here’s a complete list of cut-your-own farms:
Living (potted) conifer: This is where you buy a nursery tree in a pot with the intention of planting it in the ground after the holidays. This year, we’re not even going there. Most potted trees never make it into the ground, or if they do, they die from improper care or grow large in teh wrong spot. Consider this a fad somewhat similar to Easter chicks. Not A Good Idea for anyone but the most anal and exemplary.
Wreaths and boughs: These will dry out more quickly than a tree, but are easier to transport and less messy. But they weren’t cut yesterday. To rehydrate, soak in a bath tub for eight to 24 hours and drip dry before decorating. (Note: The scent does last for months; when the wreath or bough becomes brittle, you can crush the needles off the branches and keep the needles in a bowl for many more months of aromatic pleasure.)
Essence of the tree: Stimulate the sense of smell, et voila, you’ve got a Christmas tree—at least in your mind. There’s pinyon pine incense and essential oils. Rosemary plants are abundant this time of year, with their piney aroma. Golden Braid Books carries an extensive line of evergreen scented candles.
Lacey Kniep is CATALYST’s calendar editor. Katherine Pioli is a Catalyst staff writer.