Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How to Buy a Christmas Tree: Part One

What to Expect at the Local Christmas Tree Lot

Purchasing the Christmas tree every year can be the best part of the holiday season -- a wonderful family tradition -- OR it can be a big kick in the face.  It’s really hard to find the holiday spirit of my youth when it’s 90 degrees outside, or even worse, 90 degrees and raining.  But, honey, after 40 years, I've learned how to buy a Christmas tree under any circumstance and it’s a worthy skill to pass on to our children. 

I think my favorite Christmas memories were the “teaching years,” the formative years when I took my three kids to the Christmas tree lot in town, specifically to teach them just how to buy a Christmas tree.  For many years, our lot of choice was the one on the southeast corner of the US 41 and Pondella intersection.  Sometimes their school friends and teammates would drive by honking and hollering.  Sometimes they'd even stop to see what we were up to.  When one gets to be a teenager, picking out the family Christmas tree can be lame, but when said teenager is responsible for choosing and buying a Christmas tree-- let's just say it changes the dynamics of the situation.

My preferred method would be to hand them the cash from the Christmas Tree Fund and turn them loose, putting them in charge of the purchasing the perfect Christmas tree for the least amount of money.  If there was anything left over, we'd go to lunch.  Usually exhausted from Christmas preparations (which all needed to be worked in between my two jobs and three soccer schedules), I’d sit in the truck and watch. 

By the time the girls were in their last years of college they had it down to a science: Find the perfect Christmas tree no matter what the cost and then negotiate and renegotiate.  There were very few tree lot operators of the male persuasion that could resist the combined assault of two very tall, very blond, very charming and very pretty college coeds.
My absolute favorite Christmas tree buying experience was the time my business major daughter, Nicole, turned both barrels of flirtatiousness and beauty on a hillbilly country bumpkin somewhere in the backwoods of Georgia and took over the negotiations from her sister, leaving Jessi to just climb back in the truck. 
High on success, we got to listen to Nicole relive her technique and tactics for hours as we drove the last 400 miles down to Fort Myers, Florida.  When Jessi hoisted the tree from the truck bed she asked her sister again, “How much did you pay for this tree?”  “$60,” said Nicole smugly, almost dislocating her shoulder patting herself on the back.  All Jessi did was show her the $45 price tag attached to the tree branch.  Hilarious.
Regardless if you are journeying out to cut your own at a tree farm, going to the Christmas tree lot on the corner town or purchasing your tree at the local “big box” outlet, here are some tips on how to buy a Christmas tree:

From Your Local Christmas Tree Retail Lot:
1.    Take your measurements with you.  Don’t waste money by buying too big of a tree.  Remember Christmas Vacation.
2.    Be safe.  If you are going to a retail lot, make sure it is well lit and there are plenty of people around. 

3.    Prepare for sticker shock.  There is no regulation on the price of Christmas trees, so they will always be priced at what the market can bear.  Remember, tree farmers are FARMERS and not Santa.

Prices will vary widely depending how far the tree was shipped, what kind, how tall and how close to Christmas Eve you are buying.  I have bought the perfect Christmas tree for practically nothing on Christmas Eve Day (don’t judge me) and in 1986, I paid $150 for a brown and green tree on Christmas Eve Day (again, stop with the judging.)  I don’t think it would be too obscene to plan on $20 a lineal foot or even higher in some metropolitan areas like New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C..  Just remember not to buy an eight foot tree if you only need a six footer.  That $40 savings can buy a lot of lights and ornaments.

4.    When selecting a Christmas tree lot, look for one that keeps their trees in the shade.
5.    Find two or three trees that will suit you perfectly then do your own “freshness”      test. Look the tree over for dryness.  Look underneath the tree for needle loss indicated by a puddle of needles and naked branches.  Lean in and sniff to see if there is an underlying smell of mustiness.
6.  Do a needle test.  The needle test for Spruce and Fir trees is different from pine.  The green needles on a spruce and a fir tree will break crisply and cleanly when you bend them.  On the other hand, the green needles of a pine tree will bend but not snap.
7.  Pull and stroke the needles. This will give you an indication of the softness              as well as releasing the scent that you’ll be living with for the next several weeks.
8.  Do you remember that old saying, “Don’t buy a pig in a poke?” The same is true      when you buy a Christmas tree. If the tree is baled or tied up, ask the manager to remove the netting and shake it out.  Don’t fall for the old “It’s just like that tree over there” line. No, it isn’t. Stand back and give it a good look.  Go through your How to Buy a Christmas Tree check list:
  • Look for bare spots.
  • Look for a straight trunk -- at least a trunk that is straight the bottom 12-18 inches.
  • Make sure it has the spacing you need to hang your ornaments.
  • Make sure it has only one main spire on top and not two or three random branches that stick out about the center spire.
  • When it's shaken out and bounced watch the ground for excessive needle loss.
  • Check to make sure the bottom three or four branches are not dead.
  • Gently push on a branch to check the rigidity and if it will be able to hold your heavier ornaments.
9.  And finally Miss Bee’s Two Best Pieces of Advice (especially if your attempting to teach your children how to buy a Christmas tree):
  •   First -- If you don’t like the attitude of the person you’re dealing with, WALK AWAY.  In my life's experience I've learned that most of the time, you'll get the same attitude back as the one you put out there.  So if you were nice and patient and the salesperson/manager/owner was still rude? Walk away.  Let your kids know that as a consumer -- no matter how young -- you don't have to buy.  Don’t let them ruin your Christmas tree experience. 
  • If in doubt about the freshness of any particular tree, choose another.  There have been a few times I’ve ignored my own advise and in a matter of a week had a brown, stick tree that reminded me every single day of the holiday season what an idiot I was.

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