The Christmas tree cutting tradition

Photo by Gregg Goodland Rio Grande National Public Affairs Officer Gregg Goodland writes this week about his family’s Christmas tree cutting tradition.

What fun I get to have when I talk about one of my favorite subjects — family Christmas traditions. And to be able to combine it with my passion for the outdoors is a real bonus. You’ve already guessed it! Cutting your own Christmas tree is an age-old family tradition that is as much a part of me as my family is.

The first outdoor activity I did after starting work on the Rio Grande National Forest four years ago was harvesting a Christmas tree. I was certainly not alone in my quest. It’s a tradition that millions of families have enjoyed for generations. I wrote about that day in my first submission to Land, Water and People in December of 2019. I also wrote about it in 2020 and I thought it would be fun to dust off parts of both those articles and share with you again, the joy and rules of cutting a Christmas tree.

A couple of years ago one of my daughters and I were able to drive further into the national forest than normal years because of the lack of deep snow. We drove pretty far up a forest road, stopped to put the tire chains on and drove further still. Making first tracks on the road provides almost a childish thrill but hey, I get to have fun too. We finally hit the brakes and the annual march through deep snow began. Secretly, we both wanted to be the one to find that perfect tree, so we passed numerous very lovely trees thinking “I’ll remember that one if I don’t find a better one.” How many times have you done that and never COULD find it again! It is frustrating, but all you can do is laugh! We tracked up the forest’s snow blanket, inspected millions (ok dozens) of trees, and left snow angels in the unbroken snow, just to be promptly covered that very evening. We cut our two trees, dragged them, tagged them, and left the area just as the cold was tightening its grip on the mountain. Heading down, we were treated to a spectacular display of colors, typical of San Luis Valley sunsets in the winter. The hot chocolate and something else inside warmed us as we drove back home that evening. I think I know what it was.

A brief history of Christmas trees suggests that they began to be more common in America with first record of one used by German immigrants in Pennsylvania in the 1830’s. After Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree, the tradition was immediately deemed fashionable in both England and America. The Christmas tree had arrived. Since then, families have enjoyed searching for the perfect tree for generations. Many of the trees you will find might be a bit oddly shaped. But, that just ads to the Christmas character of each home.

This weekend, we’ll get our tree and will decorate it while listening to our favorite old Christmas songs and some of the kids’ newer music. A second batch of treats will be in order as the warmth and tantalizing smells of the oven fill the room and add to the occasion.

Once again, the Rio Grande National Forest is offering permits to cut your Christmas tree this year. Like always, you need to get a permit and follow all the normal rules. They are necessary to maintain a program that will last for generations. Most importantly, be sure you are on Rio Grande National Forest lands before cutting your tree. Please don’t disappoint our neighbors by going onto their land.

If you would like to harvest a Christmas tree for your family, feel free to contact one of our offices to learn more about it. You can also visit our dedicated Christmas Tree web page to learn where to buy the permits locally: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/Rio_Grande_Christmas_Tree.

I plan to continue our real Christmas tree family tradition, as long as I can get out there and find one. I said it in my first article – I will always look to our National Forests to provide the location. The Rio Grande National Forest will be my choice for many years to come.

So, if you haven’t already, get your permit(s), bundle up, load the sleds, hot chocolate and your lunch, then jump in the truck and make a day of the excursion. Plan for bad roads, securing the tree to your vehicle and don’t forget the hand saw! Your Rio Grande National Forest may still be hiding YOUR perfect Christmas tree.

Gregg Goodland is the Public Affairs Officer for the Rio Grande National Forest. An avid outdoor enthusiast, he promotes the responsible and safe use of our public lands.