A Maine tradition: Fake firs, evergreens can’t beat the real thing for many in the area

Posted Dec. 13, 2009, at 10:36 a.m.
Michael Sturgeon, left, cuts a Christmas tree at Carpenter's Tree Farm in Old Town on Saturday, December 12, 2009 as his assistants, Sam Peabody, center, readies the tree cart as brothers, Alex, second from right, and Jake Leithiser , right, engage in a friendly snow throwing contest. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
Michael Sturgeon, left, cuts a Christmas tree at Carpenter's Tree Farm in Old Town on Saturday, December 12, 2009 as his assistants, Sam Peabody, center, readies the tree cart as brothers, Alex, second from right, and Jake Leithiser , right, engage in a friendly snow throwing contest. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
Cathy and Ken Hanscom cart their prized Christmas tree from the field at Carpenter's Tree Farm in Old Town on Saturday, December 12, 2009. The Hanscoms had pre-selected their tree two weeks before and were anxious  too see if it had survived the recent snow and winds. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
Cathy and Ken Hanscom cart their prized Christmas tree from the field at Carpenter's Tree Farm in Old Town on Saturday, December 12, 2009. The Hanscoms had pre-selected their tree two weeks before and were anxious too see if it had survived the recent snow and winds. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)

OLD TOWN — When it comes time to put up the Christmas tree, many people in Maine — where evergreens and fir trees abound — grab a saw and head to the woods or a tree farm.

Cathy and Ken Hanscom of Orono did what they have done for decades and headed out to Carpenter’s Tree Farm on Bennoch Road in Old Town.

Ken, using a worn yellow hand saw on Saturday, did the work to cut down the balsam fir he and his wife picked out two weeks before.

“That’s going to be a nice one, hon,” Cathy Hanscom said to her husband of 31 years.

“It’s perfect,” Ken Hanscom said as he loaded the freshly cut tree onto a cart to carry it back to their vehicle.

Young and old braved the bitter cold on Saturday in search of the perfect holiday tree, which will be a gathering point in coming weeks as families from all over draw together to celebrate the holiday.

The Maine Christmas Tree Association’s Web site lists 56 choose-and-cut locations in Maine, including Carpenter’s, and there are others listed in the phone book.

When it comes to picking out a family Christmas tree, Jayden MacLean, 6, of Holden, is an expert.

“It’s not the first time,” she said confidently, after finishing a cup of hot apple cider. “I picked out a big tree, a tall tree.”

This year, “I’m going to get to put the star on the tree,” she said proudly.

Her dad, Dan MacLean, said he always had a fake tree when he was growing up, and he and his wife, Stacy, wanted to start a new tradition with his young family, which also includes a toddler, 15-month-old Carson.

“Hopefully, we’re creating some memories,” he said.

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a decorated real tree, said Orono resident Charles Grant, who on Saturday was tying the tree his wife, Nancy, picked out to the top of his minivan.

“I always have a real tree — nothing but,” he said. “We like the smell of the tree amongst other things.”

For one Old Town group, the search for this year’s holiday tree took them all the way to the back of Carpenter’s Tree Farm. It’s not about finding the perfectly shaped tree, Michael Sturgeon said, it’s about being with friends and family and enjoying time together.

As he cut down the selected tree, Jo-Lynn Leithiser held the top, a camera hanging from around her neck. Jake and Alex Leithiser and friend Sam Peabody threw snowballs and wrestled in the snow while the work was being done.

The teens then were given the job of wheeling the tree and cart down the long path, back to the group’s vehicle.

Jo-Lynn Leithiser said she grew up with half a dozen brothers and sisters and her family “never had a real tree.”

“We had an ugly silver metallic tree,” she said. “When I got out of the house, I started getting real ones.”

While the old metallic tree her family used is long gone, one of her brothers still puts up a replacement silver tree as a way to remember the good times of their youth, she said, adding he also puts up a real one.

While some residents have always had a real tree, and others are starting new traditions, for the operators of Carpenter’s, it’s just good to see all the smiling faces, Susan Carpenter-O’Brien said.

The business was started by her parents, Elaine and Walter Carpenter, in the late 1970s when they planted the trees, and began offering choose-and-cut in the mid-1980s, she said.

This year, in fact, “we’ve had the busiest tree sales ever,” Carpenter-O’Brien said.

With her daughter Kelly O’Brien working in the family business, three generations of Carpenters are helping to make the holidays special with their fresh-cut holiday trees and decorations.

When it comes to Christmas, choosing a tree and cutting it down is just part of the holiday, the Hanscoms said.

“It’s a tradition, every year,” Cathy Hanscom said.

“There is nothing like the real thing,” Ken Hanscom added.

How to choose, care for your Christmas tree

The following are suggestions, provided by the Maine Christmas Tree Association’s Web site, about how to select and care for a Christmas tree.

ä Do a freshness test. Gently grasp a branch between thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh. Shake or bounce the tree on its stump. You should not see an excessive amount of green needles fall to the ground. Some loss of interior brown needles is normal and will occur over the lifetime of the tree.

ä Once you have chosen your tree, keep it in a sheltered, unheated area such as a porch or garage to protect it from the wind and sun until you are ready to decorate it.

ä Before you set up your tree, make a fresh, straight cut across the base of the trunk (about a quarter-inch up from the original cut) and place the tree in a tree stand that holds a gallon of water or more.

ä Warning: Keep the tree stand filled with water. A seal of dried sap will form over the cut stump in four to six hours if the water drops below the base of the tree, preventing the tree from absorbing water later when the tree stand is refilled. If a seal does form, another fresh cut will need to be made.

ä A tree will absorb as much as a gallon of water or more in the first 24 hours and 1 or more quarts a day thereafter. Water is important because it prevents the needles from drying and dropping off and the boughs from drooping. Water also keeps the tree fragrant.

ä Keep your tree away from heat and draft sources such as fireplaces, radiators and television sets. Test your light cords and connections before hanging them on the tree to make sure they’re in good working order. You don’t want to use cords with cracked insulation or broken or empty sockets. Be sure to unplug the lights before you go to bed or leave the house. Never overload electrical circuits.

Source: Maine Christmas Tree Association, www.mainechristmastree.com.

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