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Real Christmas trees are a familiar part of holiday traditions

News Photo by James Andersen Mac Jones aids Brian Hoppe in cutting his family Christmas tree by steadying the tree as Hoppe cuts it with a saw during a recent visit to Dean’s Tree Farm in Alpena.

ALPENA — For Northeast Michiganders like Mac James and his family, there’s just something special and comfortably familiar about having a real Christmas tree in the house at Christmastime.

“I like the smell of it, you know?,” James said. “The smell in the house. It just seems like that’s the way it should be. There’s something about having a live, real tree in your house for Christmas.”

James isn’t alone in his sentiment. Many Northeast Michigan residents prefer real trees to artificial ones for the holidays. It’s why families like James’ make an annual trek to area tree farms like Dean’s Tree Farm on Piper Road in Alpena to get some fresh air, breathe in the smell of natural Christmas trees, and cut down their own to take home and decorate for the holidays.

During a recent visit to Dean’s, James and his family carefully surveyed one of the farm’s lots, looking for the perfect tree. Once they found it, James got to work with a bow saw, tucking himself in between branches to cut the tree low to the ground.

Depending on the size of the tree, felling it can take quite a bit of elbow grease, but it’s worth it to those who want a real tree for Christmas. With so many trees, tall and short, wide and narrow, to choose from, James said part of the fun of having a real tree for Christmas is finding the perfect tree.

News Photo by James Andersen Various Christmas trees are shown recently at Dean’s Tree Farm on Piper Road in Alpena.

Some farms like Dean’s offer both U-cut and pre-cut options, but James said he’s going to cut his own tree down as long as he can.

Once it’s at home, the tree in the James family home will be decorated with a star at the top, Christmas lights and all kinds of ornaments, including many passed down from family members. There’s even a Mickey Mouse cuckoo clock that sings different Christmas songs.

“We’ve always had a Christmas tree and gotten a real tree since I was a little kid,” James said. “Once we got married and had our own kids, we continued going to tree farms like this and cutting down our own. We like to pick it out instead of having the pre-cut ones. We like going and finding it and the whole journey of just going out with the kids and cutting down the tree and we always do it the Sunday after Thanksgiving.”

Michigan ranks third in the nation in Christmas tree production and produces about two million trees each year, according to the Michigan Christmas Tree Association.

The group says scores of Christmas tree farms in Michigan have benefited this year from a strong growing season — perhaps even one of the best seasons there’s been in some time.

News Photo by James Andersen Rogers City resident Mac James puts the finishing touches on his handiwork after cutting down a Christmas tree for his family during a recent visit to Dean’s Tree Farm in Alpena.

That seems to be the case at Dean’s where business has been steady, according to Albert Skiba, who took over operations at the farm this year.

“It’s been busy,” Skiba said. “It’s been swamped the last few days. It’s more traditional. A lot of people cut their own trees. They walk around to the lots, let the kids pick out the tree. It’s exciting, I think, to develop their own tree.”

The farm has been part of Skiba’s family for years and Skiba remembers going there as a youngster to get the family tree each year. Traditions like that are what keep the farm going and passing these Christmas customs from generation to generation are what keep families coming back.

“There’s people that have been coming here (for years),” Skiba said. “I had a guy come here the other day, he was probably in his mid 40s, he said, ‘I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid,’ so they’ve been coming here every year. It’s like a tradition. A lot of people have been coming here for years and years and years.”

News Photo by James Andersen Rogers City resident Mac James drags his family’s Christmas tree behind him after cutting it down during a recent visit to Dean’s Tree Farm in Alpena.

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