Friday, December 23, 2011


Last weekend we bought our Christmas tree (joulukuusi), a bit earlier than we normally do, mainly so that our son, who’s on leave from the army, would have a chance to help decorate it before he unfortunately had to return to his barracks for the holidays

The tradition here in Finland is to decorate the tree only on Christmas Eve itself, but our habit has always been to do it a day or so earlier, just after my in-laws arrived from eastern Finland with a tree freshly cut from their farmer neighbor’s forest. 

A landscape made for Christmas, Repovesi National Park.
Photo: M . Passinen.
In recent years, however, we’ve started doing what most Helsinkians do, schlep out to one of the many stores and pick out a tree from those freshly unloaded from trucks.  Not surprising for a country covered in boreal forests, the supply seems almost endless.  For most people here, only one kind of Christmas tree will do, the kuusi, or Norway spruce (Picea abies), though it's also possible to buy other species imported from abroad.  

An interesting thing about Christmas trees sold in Finland is that most of them are just the leftovers from full-grown trees that have been harvested in the normal course of commercial logging.  The loggers simply keep the top two or three meters a 30-meter tall spruce and put it aside for the Christmas tree market.  As far as I know, almost no trees are grown for the sole purpose of brightening up someone’s living room for a week or so.  Maybe that’s why I’ve never seen a single Christmas-tree farm anywhere in Finland. 

My late parents had a tree farm in Georgia, a small one.  After they had sold their mom-and-pop dry-cleaning shop and became retired, they decided to turn the unused pasture around our house into a tree farm.  It was a brilliant idea.  It gave them a way to stay busy, especially around Christmastime, make some extra money and -- maybe just as importantly -- interact with the public, something I think they were missing after they stopped running a small business where townspeople came and went all day.  The farm was a great business for my parents.  They had many repeat customers, people who would drive up from places like Atlanta every year to walk around the farm and find just the right tree for my father to cut for them. 

Commercial X-mas tree farm in Iowa.
Georgia being Georgia, the trees that my parents grew were mostly white pines (Pinus strobus).  Though it’s a species that most Finns would not recognize as a real Christmas tree, white pines actually do make fine Christmas trees, especially when carefully shaped and trimmed. 

But what seemed a bit too strange for my Finnish wife was how my parents would spruce up the white pines for the cutting season by -- white pines being, well, not so dark -- spraying them with green dye to make them “greener”.  America being America, that’s just the way things are done there in the Christmas tree growing business. 

Whether dyed, naturally green, or even 100% plastic, you have to admit that once you’ve added the lights, the ornaments, and, not least of all, the presents, any Christmas tree in the home brings the right amount of cheer and excitement for the holiday season. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

Christmas tree in Denmark.  Photo: Malene Thyssen, 

1 comment:

  1. When we lived in Gilmer we always went out into the forest--generally a spot that had been clear-cut near our 120 acres of good old hardwoods--and cut down a wild white pine. There were plenty to choose from and the Rome-Kraft paper company never seemed to complain about us stealing one of their trees.

    My favorite Christmas tree is the Fraser fir, or "balsam" tree. It can't be beat as a Christmas tree, to my way of thinking.

    There are Norway spruce here in the South...lots of them in the higher country of North Carolina and even more in West Virginia where almost every yard seems to have them planted. I know they're non-native species, and I generally hate seeing invasive trees and animals, but in the case of the Norway spruce I make an exception. It's just a superlative tree. I enjoy looking at them and would plant them in my own yard if I lived in a place where they could survive (I don't live in such a spot).

    I didn't know your parents had started a tree farm. That's very cool, and a natural thing for them to do. I recall the pastures around your place. They couldn't grow balsams, eh? I'm not surprised...I don't think they do well below 3,000 feet or so, even in NC and VA tree farms.

    I remember that my art teacher at Gilmer High School had to keep an eye out on her yard every year because people driving up from Atlanta would always try to stop in front of her house and cut down her white pines for Christmas trees! True story!