I’m the last guy you would ever expect to see behind the wheel of a heavy duty pickup truck. Yet, early on the first Saturday in December, with breath visible and frost still clinging to blades of grass, I found myself guiding a Northsky Blue Metallic 2019 Chevy Silverado into the gravel parking lot of Yeagers Tree Farm in Phoenixville. With my family stretched out in the expansive cab behind me, we arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to ride upon hay bales then traipse through a field of firs in hope of finding the perfect nine foot Douglas to tie down in the truck bed then adorn our vaulted-ceiling family room.
Brilliant is the marketing mind who first dreamed up the DYI Christmas tree farm experience for families. In exchange for 6 free ounces of hot chocolate, a complimentary sugar cookie in the shape of a candy cane, and a tree of their choosing, families flock from miles away to gleefully hand over upwards of $10 per foot for the privilege of doing manual labor on their bad back and dodgy knees in a field becoming increasingly muddy as frost fades and temperatures rise. If nothing else, for me, I get the opportunity to prove to my doubting children that I do indeed know how to use a saw [fingers crossed] without injuring myself.
Years ago, when our daughters were small and still believed in Santa Claus, we would make this same annual trek to Yeagers. We’d each grab a cookie and some cocoa, we’d take a photo of the girls on Santa’s lap with pine trees in the distance, and we’d slip a few dollar bills to the lumbering fellas who helped secure our tree to the top of our family car. It was fun and provided something unique to do together at the start of the festive period, but eventually, the $40-$50 trees leaning on 2x4s in the local parking lot manned by eager fundraising Boy Scouts became the preferred method for acquiring our evergreen centerpieces.
I’m not knocking the tree farm experience but I’ve been a parent long enough now to understand that cut-your-own Christmas tree outings serve two distinct purposes in the timeline of a family. First, you make the trip when the kids are little, to show them that Christmas trees don’t naturally sprout each November in abandoned parking lots on the side of the road. It’s the postcard-perfect way to kickstart the season surrounded by handmade wreaths, poinsettias, a bevy of charming decorations for sale, for the hayride, and of course, the cookies and warm cocoa. You feel okay paying for this package once or twice as a new-ish parent — the kids are happy bounding through the field as the sugar rush kicks in, going from tree to tree gleefully asking, “how about this one?!”
Then you retreat from the farm. You choose to save a few bucks by picking up affordable trees on the way home from work. You do this for a handful of years. Those Fraser and Douglas firs end up looking every bit as lovely in your home, all strung with garland and decorated with ornaments collected from family vacations and those special ones handed down with love from grandparents. Maybe you even hide a Christmas pickle inside the tree if that’s your thing.
In what seems like a blink, your kids are nearly as tall as you and you say, “hey, let’s make another trip to the farm to find and cut our own tree this Christmas”. The experience is worth the money once again, for at least one last year, because it closes the loop of sorts on childhood. And because now, the same little kids who once ran through the tree farm to find the best one for you to cut can get their own knees wet as they duck under prickly tree needles to saw back and forth. Sure, they may no longer want to tell Santa what they’re wishing for but the hot chocolate is still soothing on a cold morning, the cookies still crunchy and delicious, and the family memories still worth every penny.
Here are some of the best tree farms in the Philadelphia area ready to provide your family with special memories and a new holiday tradition, whether your kids’ eyes are still young and wide or if they have grown older, wiser, and now come complete with expertly-applied eyeliner.
Marsh Creek Tree Farm
Heylmun’s Pine Hill Farm
Boswells Tree Farm