116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Even though Tim Crain — who is in the military and visiting from Maine — won’t be home for Christmas this year, it was important to him that he cut down a tree with his wife and three children Friday while in town for Thanksgiving this week.
“He’s missed more Christmases than he’s been home,” said Samantha Crain, Tim’s wife. This is the last Christmas he plans to miss; he will retire in the spring after 20 years of service.
Tim and his family have been choosing real trees over artificial since their first son was born more than a decade ago. They usually find the tree right away that they end up taking home — but spend another hour looking before coming back it, Samantha said. Tim will start cutting down the tree before turning the saw over to his sons — Braxton, 11, Micah and Braedyn, both 7 — who will get to do the honors of felling the tree at Hoffman Tree Farm in Marion.
The boys want “the biggest tree they can find,” they said.
Korey Johnson, co-owner of Wickiup Hill Tree Farm in Toddville, said people choose real trees for the family experience.
“The entire day you’re doing everything you can to make sure everyone stays safe and the customers have a great time,” Johnson said. “The kids come out and run around the farm. You hear giggles. The dads who want the first tree they see walk all over the farm and come back to get that first tree.”
Christmas tree farming is more work than helping customers pick their trees the weekend after Thanksgiving, Johnson said. The biggest job is shearing the trees to make them look like Christmas trees.
“They certainly don’t grow that way,” Johnson said. “We swing a blade at them all summer long from mid-June to mid-August to make sure it takes on that perfect Christmas tree shape.”
Johnson said it’s important to “slow down” when you get to the tree farm and put safety first. While the kids may want to try to cut down the tree, the adults need to carry the saws, he said.
“There’s going to be a perfect tree for your family,” Johnson said. “Be aware there are a lot of people, a lot of little kids and take your time.”
Avery Leonard, 9, was looking for a “fluffy tree” sturdy enough to hold ornaments Friday at Hoffman Tree Farm with her mother Chelsea Meyer and sister Madison Szumita, 16. Meyer said the family will wear matching Christmas pajamas Saturday morning and decorate the tree.
Ever since she was a child in Wisconsin, Alyssa August, who now lives in Tipton, recalls cutting down a tree as a family for the holiday in the wild with a $5 tree tag. On Friday, August and her family were at Handley’s Holiday Hillside in Solon with coffee and doughnuts in hand.
Rebecca Haas also was looking for a Christmas tree with her daughter’s family at Handley’s Holiday Hillside Friday. "It’s very heartwarming to see the tradition being carried on and being able to experience that and see the wonder through their eyes,“ said Haas, speaking about her granddaughters Ayla and Talia Keck, 7 and 4 years old.
Ayla said she was looking for a tree that is “pointy at the top for the star.” Talia wants a tree with full branches at the bottom where she can hang ornaments, she said.
Cutting down their own tree is “part of the tradition,” said Ceric Keck, Ayla and Talia’s mother and Haas’ daughter. “It kicks off the holidays and officially marks the start of Christmas. And it smells good.”
Which tree is right for you?
Fir trees are “what gets people in the door” at Wickiup Hill Tree Farm, Johnson said. It’s one of the most traditional Christmas trees with short needles that “don’t hurt you when you touch them.”
The Scotch pine is also a “traditional tree” because it resists drying out and doesn’t drop as many needles, Johnson said. While it’s not as soft as other pine trees, the branches are more sturdy, he said.
Another popular tree is white pines, which have soft needles and are beautiful and full, Johnson said. However, the branches might not support heavier ornaments.
People with curious pets occasionally like a spruce tree, which — while beautiful — is a little painful to the touch, Johnson said.
Adam Jones, a captain with the Cedar Rapids Fire Department, said there are three key things to keep in mind when adding a Christmas tree to a home during the holidays: picking, placing and lighting the tree.
A small fire that spreads to a Christmas tree can grow large very quickly, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Avoiding this starts by choosing a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.
Make sure the tree is at least three feet from any heat source like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights when the tree is placed. Add water to the tree stand daily to keep the tree from drying out too quickly, and make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
Choose lights listed by a qualified testing laboratory. LED lights run much cooler than other string lights. Replace any string lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
Dried out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage or placed outside against the home. Although Christmas tree fires are not common, when they do occur they are more likely to be serious.
Almost one-third of home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems, according to the National Fire Protection Association. A heat source too close to a tree causes more than one in every five of the fires.
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