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Christmas traditions on our farm

Visitors get to take a sleigh ride through the snow at my family's Christmas tree farm in Hancock County.

By Matt Reese

In this year of the 500th anniversary of the decorated Christmas tree, there is quite a bit of talk about tradition. For my wife and I, the annual holiday tradition starts with a massive Thanksgiving dinner at her parents’ home where we eat heartily.

This year’s guest of honor at the feast was a 40-pound turkey we got at the Fairfield County Fair. The lady on the turkey-cooking hotline was stumped and thought my wife was crazy to attempt cooking a 40-pound turkey, but she suggested a five- to six-hour cooking time. We soaked the bird in brine for nearly a day and a half. We got up at 3:30 in the morning to rinse the bird outside with the hose and bring it in to rub it with butter and start cooking. Fortunately, we measured the oven and this poultry giant just eeked in there. The turkey was actually done much sooner than the anticipated cooking time and it was spectacular (visit http://ocj.com/blogs/lets-talk-turkey/ for photos). After a fantastic lunch at my in-laws, we loaded up the kids for the two-hour drive north to Hancock County in a turkey-induced stupor for my family’s Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving feast No. 2 for the day featured an always-impressive lineup of homemade Reese family desserts. This year’s list included: sugar cream pie, several types of cookies, pumpkin cheesecake with walnut frosting, apple crisp, and a delicious concoction of pudding, whipped cream, cake, and Oreos.

After dinner, my immediate family went home to finish up last minute preparations for the opening day of our Christmas tree farm. Then, we trade the long lines and crowded parking lots of “Black Friday” for a crisp morning spent working in the fresh pine scented air of the farm. From there, our family tradition is sharing the family traditions of others as they visit us to get their Christmas tree.

One family has been coming for several years and they alternate who picks the tree. One year the girls pick the most flawless, grandiose fir tree they can find. Every needle must be in place and the shape must be perfect. They spend more than an hour looking at every last tree to find the best.

In stark contrast, the next year the guys in the family get to pick the tree and they search equally hard to find the worst looking tree, just to irritate the ladies. This year they selected an unshorn Norway spruce from our windbreak at the back of the field. The ladies were mortified. The guys just grinned.

Another family comes out and seeks out the largest tree they can find to fill up their great room. They do not care about shape, type or style — they just want it to be huge. We also have one lady that narrows down her list of possibilities and then sniffs the trees until she finds one with just the right smell. Some people bring their dogs, some people bring their friends, and one guy brings his vintage Volkswagen Beetle every year and straps his tree on the top.

At the tree farm, we have found that the specifics of the tradition really do not matter. It is the experience, memories, and the close bonds between family and friends that are the important part of holiday family traditions. And, with 500 years of the Christmas tree tradition, there have undoubtedly been many, many great family memories and relationships along the way.

We feel very fortunate to play a small part in this long and cherished tradition that, ultimately, comes down to honoring the birth of Jesus on that first, simple Christmas. The holiday honoring this occasion has changed quite a bit since then, not all of it for the better. But, as an excited family carries their perfect fresh-cut Christmas tree across the field through the crisp country twilight with the sun dipping below the western horizon, there is ample reason to believe that the inherent goodness of this tradition will be around for another 500 years.

Have a Merry Christmas.

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