BELFAST, Maine — With a light snow falling on Thursday morning and the fragrant scent of balsam fir invigorating the chilly breeze, it truly was beginning to look an awful lot like Christmas at Fishers Christmas Tree Farm in Belfast.
But by sunset, the short, festive season at the family-owned business would come to an end for another year. The last day at the Christmas tree farm means that owners Gary and Melba Fisher can catch their breath after a busy month of selling trees, making hot chocolate, stoking the wood stove and watching their youngest customers marvel, wide-eyed, over the toy train that winds merrily through a Christmas village inside their shop.
Still, the end of the year is bittersweet, too.
“I’m just a Christmas person,” Melba Fisher said. “I love Christmas. It’s such a nice time of the year. And everybody who comes in here is happy.”
Even as she packed away decorations and ornaments for sale that she will pull out again next Thanksgiving, some last-minute customers braved the slippery weather to hunt for the perfect Christmas tree.
Among those was Hiram Andrews, who lives in Washington, D.C., now but whose parents reside in Belfast. Andrews’ wife is from Austria, where the custom is to get the Christmas tree shortly before the holiday.
“It’s a tradition,” Andrews said as Gary Fisher wrapped up the nearly 6-foot-tall tree the couple had chosen and cut down.
Not all last-day Christmas tree shoppers are as intentional as Andrews, according to the Fishers. Earlier on Thursday, a Massachusetts man had stopped at the farm, slightly desperate to take home a tree and all the trimmings. He has a seasonal residence in Maine and his children were coming to spend the holidays here — but there was no tree and there were no ornaments.
“He had nothing,” Gary Fisher said.
So after he chose a tree from the 10 acres planted in balsam fir, Fraser fir and white pines, he came into the shop, where Melba Fisher unpacked the ornaments she had just put away for the year. She found enough festive decorations to set him and his tree up for the holiday. Then it came time to pay, and the Massachusetts man pulled out a credit card — a problem at the Belfast tree farm, which can’t take credit cards as payment.
“He went to his car and hunted up all his quarters,” Melba Fisher said.
The Mainers told him not to worry about it, telling him they’d figure it out. They sold him the tree and the trimmings at a steep discount, taking only the cash he had on hand.
That may not be business as usual in most places, but it does seem like it is par for the course at this particular Christmas tree farm, which every season sees a flurry of customers who plunk down dollars for their own tree and then pay it forward for another person’s tree, too.
“We do a lot of that,” Melba Fisher said. “It works out really well.”
The rest of the year can also be busy at the farm, which the couple started as a retirement project in 2007. That’s when they moved from California back to Maine, where Melba Fisher had grown up. As with any farm, each calendar month has its own rhythm. In April, they start planting seedlings and then work hard during the summer months trimming trees, mowing, spraying and watching out for bugs. This summer was particularly tough on the seedlings, as the drought caused Japanese beetle larvae to feast, unusually, on their tender roots. About 400 seedlings were killed this year because of that.
Then comes the day after Thanksgiving and the beginning of the tree sales. Every year, they aim to sell 400 to 500 Christmas trees and they made that this season. During the busy month, family members and extra help pitch in to make the season a success.
“This has been a good year,” Gary Fisher said, adding that they seem to be facing more competition than ever from mini markets, grocery stores and other businesses that are getting into the Christmas tree line. “But the problem with them is that they’ve been cut for who knows how long.”
At cut-your-own farms, that’s not the case. So business at Fishers Christmas Tree Farm remains good, and full of smiles.
“It’s the kids and their grins and their happiness,” Melba Fisher said, when asked what makes her job special. “They’re all so happy to be here and they don’t want to leave.”