In Praise of Cedar Christmas Trees

The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
                  “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees,” T.S. Eliot

Growing up we never bought a Christmas tree. Every year, my father and I would walk through the hills around our home, find a wild cedar tree around seven feet tall, and cut it down.

One year, out for a December walk, we came across a good candidate for a Christmas tree, but we had no hatchet. My dad did have the gun he usually took with him into the woods. Rather than walk back home for a hatchet he simply shot the trunk of the tree. This was eastern Kentucky, after all.

From childhood I have equated the smell and look of fresh cedar with Christmas. These were trees from the fields and the woods, weeds really, not carefully trimmed conical perfections barely distinguishable from an artificial tree.

My dad told me how when he was growing up, this would have been in the 40s and 50s, eastern Kentucky farmers looking for extra Christmas money would cut down a pickup truck full of cedars and drive them to Cincinnati. Parked along a roadside, they would sell their trees to city folk, many of whom were likely from the hillbilly diaspora, Kentuckians moving north for work.

But commercialization set in. People bought fake trees they could store in a box. Northern trees began to be imported, perfectly shaped firs and such. As an essayist at Garden & Gun called them, “Yankee trees.”

While I’ve always insisted on a real Christmas tree, for years I’ve been forced into buying such Yankee trees. I would drive by roadside cedars in fence rows that taunted me in their inaccessibility. Many times I considered just pulling over and cutting one down, but figured I might have a hard time explaining it to the officer who would surely appear.

This year my fortunes changed. Someone with some land convenient to us granted permission to fell our cedar.

After initial skepticism, Daughter No. 1 has pronounced the secured cedar The Best Christmas Tree In the World. I agree. For the first time in at least a decade we have, if not the Best tree, at least the Right tree. The adolescent me of thirty years ago would heartily agree.

Picture by Traci Cornett

[I note with interest, and pleasure, that the Land Between the Lakes in western Kentucky offers free permits to cut down a cedar Christmas tree. I would love to see this become a growing trend.]

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