This week I got to do something I’ve always wanted to do: find and cut down my own Christmas tree. It’s traditional in West Virginia, (and I’ve heard in Virginia as well) to cut down a cedar tree off your property for your Christmas tree. It was always economical and easy. Cedar trees grow like weeds on any kind of land in this region, and most farmers cut them down in pasture areas. They are hardy and fast growing and are the first to repopulate open spaces. You can usually find cedar trees growing in the marginal areas, by fence rows, along highways or abandoned land, growing silently and steadily in all sizes. A quick web search indicates that these trees are most likely Juniperus virginiana, a variety of juniper native to the eastern U.S., but colloquially called cedar trees.
I’m not sure why cedar trees aren’t popular as Christmas trees: they are round shaped, grow quickly, are easy to cut down and light to haul. The boughs are light and feathery, with a silky feel if you rub down the branch, but the trees have an overall density that gives a nice Christmas tree shape. As someone who is sustainably- and locally-minded, I’d always wanted to use a cedar as my tree.
I persuaded my dad and stepmother to set up a tree this year, if I made all the arrangements, and we all agreed that a cedar tree from our land was our choice. So, I set out on my dad’s four-wheeler, with its cart in tow.
My little partner in crime was my friend’s dog, Bella, who was a trooper, running gleefully with me all the way. I drove around our property, and found a nice grove of cedar trees down in a little ravine which a small stream runs through. This section had always been accessed only by cattle, so the trees and brush could do what they wanted.
After seeing a few possible candidates, I discovered my tree across the small mushy stream, growing in brush, partially covered by thorns. It was round in front, and sparse in back, but it was the perfect height and shape to be our tree. I cut away the thorns and it took little time to cut it down with a small tree saw. I was surprised at how light it was when I picked it up to carry it to the four wheeler.
Driving carefully in the four wheeler, I had to find a way up and out of the little ravine, so I side tracked up the hill ending up at my dad’s vineyard.
Bella showed signs of fatigue against the onslaught of burrs, hitchhikers and thorns which were attacking her silky hair and slowing her down. After climbing into the main pasture, I popped her on board the four wheeler in front of me and she enjoyed the ride back to the house.
After a clean up of the tree, I brought it inside and put it into the stand. It fit perfectly in our space. It was a joy to take out a few ornaments from my world travels and decorate it. A single strand of white lights was all it needed. Simplicity was the word here. I couldn’t believe that only an hour before, it had been outside, most likely sleeping for the winter.
It stands now, delicate with decorated branches. It provides a reminder of the outside, natural world brought inside, and that special connection that comes with using something from your own land. Lastly, it is sustainable and local – no surprise that a long standing tradition is just that.