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It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Some folks are making a mad dash to the Black Friday sales to hunt for bargain-priced Christmas gifts. But others are engaging in a different hunt far from the jammed parking lots, the crowds and the noise—they’re the ones heading out to cut their own Christmas tree at one of Texas’ approximate 120 Christmas tree farms.
One of my family’s favorites is MR and MS Trees, 12 miles south of Palestine in the East Texas community of Tucker. Owned by Rick and Michaelene Sparks, members of Trinity Valley Electric Cooperative, MR and MS Trees is 15 acres of mostly Virginia pines, with some Leyland cypresses, a pollen-free tree that won’t trigger allergies, and loblolly pines.
Upon arrival at the farm, visitors are greeted by Rick, who’s usually sporting a cowboy hat with a stocking cap fitted over the crown. Guests are free to take their time finding a tree. Some like to hang around the little gift shop first and have a cup of hot chocolate or wassail (a hot mulled cider) on one of the two covered porches. Some might do a little shopping, such as for ornaments, Rick’s special wreaths made of horseshoes, stockings handmade by Michaelene or fresh wreaths of Virginia pine boughs.
The youngsters will want to pay a visit to Santa Claus, who comes to the farm on weekends. The only thing missing is the snow. Well, it did snow once, but that was on Easter, Rick laughs.
The Sparkses opened the farm in 2003 after Rick retired from the military. Since then, families from near and far have made the pilgrimage to MR and MS Trees a traditional part of their holiday.
“We have young folks who started coming here at 7 or 8 years old and who now work for us,” Rick says. “We have a family that drives from Galveston to meet with friends, and they all come here on Sunday and spend three or four hours. They play football or catch in the field. Some families bring their leashed dogs to let them get out and play. We get to see children meet Santa for the first time, and young folks bring their children back.”
Many families pack lunches and take advantage of picnic areas with tables and fire pits. Children can play in the field or join in the races at the duck pond—a water trough with side-by-side hand pumps that propel the little rubber ducks forward.
When you’re ready to find that perfect tree, hop onboard the wooden bed of a wagon big enough to hold four families of four and four perfect trees. A driver will take you to the field where you can wander and wonder as long as you like. You can cut your own tree with the hand buck crosscut saw provided or get some assistance.
You’ll also get a measuring stick. Rick jokes, “A tree grows the most from the time it gets cut down to the time it gets home.” Everyone wants the big one in the field, he says. But he encourages people to think about the height of their ceiling and the space that the stand and treetop need.
Once you get home, cut about three-quarters of an inch off the bottom of the trunk so the tree can absorb water, Rick advises. He says it’s not unusual for an 8-foot tree to take in a gallon of water the first day after it’s been cut. To keep your tree fresh throughout the holidays, Rick says, remember this: “It’s about location, location, location and water. It needs to stay away from a heat source, and that means a fireplace, a heater vent or a big window here in Texas.”
Jan Adamson is a freelance writer based in Grand Saline.
To find a Christmas tree farm near you, visit the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association’s website. Visitors should call to confirm hours.