How to pick the perfect Christmas tree

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As you travel the Berkshires and Southern Vermont in search of the perfect Christmas tree, a bit of advice: Avoid the pitfall of Clark Griswold.

It's unlikely you'll repeat the faux pas of Chevy Chase's film character in "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," but occasionally someone will strap an oversized fir atop the roof of a car.

"We had a 14-footer on a [Volkswagen] Beetle go out of here last weekend," said Peter Sweet Sr. of his family-run Seekonk Tree Farm in Great Barrington.

Sweet noted the customer had high ceilings at home, but size does matter — a key factor in selecting a Fraser, balsam, white pine or other natural symbol of the holiday season.

"A local business one time sent a woman here and she selected a 20-foot tree and a guy showed up later with an 8-foot trailer," said Jack Manix, whose family owns Walker Farm's Elysian Hills, a Christmas tree grower/seller in Dummerston, Vt.

Manix, Sweet and any other Christmas tree business owner can't emphasize enough that height and girth is high on the list of dos and don'ts of buying and caring for a Christmas tree.

"The tree doesn't look as big outdoors as it would in the living room," said Ruth Anthony of Holiday Brook Farm. The Dalton agricultural operation features pre-cut trees from Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock.

Prior to decorating the evergreen, cut about a half inch off the bottom — unless already freshly cut — so it can easily absorb the water in the tree stand, according to the Massachusetts Christmas Tree Association. The organization's tip sheet recommends initially pouring hot tap water into the tree stand to increase absorption by as much as 50 percent.

"You want the tree to last, so don't put it near a radiator and keep water in the stand," Anthony said. "Some years, you can't keep the stand full depending on the tree."

Putting up a real Christmas tree is a little more work that erecting an artificial one, but getting one locally grown — especially directly from the grower — makes for a fun December outing in New England.

"It's such a great family experience. People like cut-your-own," said Manix.

Christmas tree shopping also makes for a great family photo opportunity.

"[Thanksgiving weekend] we had families of eight to 10 people — we're talking kids, parents and grandparents — all showing up," Sweet said. "The grandparents were snapping pictures left and right."

Since Christmas tree farms are usually off the beaten path, you can have breath-taking views during your leisurely drive in the country.

"We're definitely seeing repeat business. People like the farm experience," Anthony said.

Contact Dick Lindsay at (413) 496-6233


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