Oh, North Carolina Christmas tree

Christmas is not just one day. Christmas is a pilgrimage toward hope. For many, the beginning of that journey involves a trek to get a tree.

Every family has their own traditions and customs they hang onto during the holiday season, and the tree often holds some of our most powerful memories. The ornament given by a long-lost, yet not forgotten friend; the photo of a good dog who passed over the rainbow bridge; the tiny hand-shaped mitten with a now grown child’s name scrawled across in fading crayon; or the heavy cross you hang each year in pride of place that’s been passed down through generations reminding you that Christmas is not about that tree those ornaments hang upon.Whatever your memories are, the smell of a real North Carolina Christmas tree has the effect of shuffling them up to the surface. Whether you are singing “Oh, Tannenbaum” or “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” odds are time stands still just a little bit as you toss that tinsel.Farmers bring that joy from field to floor every year, and in North Carolina the Christmas tree business is big.If yours is the sort of family with Norman Rockwell images of cutting and carrying a tree dancing in your head — Western N.C. is not the only place to enjoy that experience. Head over the beltline and through Highway 50, just up to the northern part of Wake County to Boyce Farms. “I grow primarily white pine and some Leyland cypress, red cedar, and Carolina sapphire,” said owner Mike Boyce. “I probably have three other varieties out there where I’m trying stuff.”Like most farming endeavors, these trees are a year-round labor of love. “We turn right around and start again after Christmas,” Mike’s wife, Sheila Boyce chimed in as she fashioned a ribbon for a carefully crafted mailbox swag.”That’s true, we plant trees the end of January and the first of February,” Mike finished his wife’s thought, and she took up the ever-present “weather permitting” baton that punctuates every farmer’s sentence when they speak of seasonal planting and growing timelines.The Boyces have been farming their land off of Creedmoor Road since the late 1970’s — first strawberries and now Christmas trees. “We started planting trees in 1981, and we started harvesting them in 1986,” said Mike.Integrated seamlessly into their growing operation are the quintessential North Carolina Fraser firs they bring in from a farmer in Alleghany County. “There’s another shipment headed this way tomorrow,” said Mike, unable to hide his excitement. “They’ll probably be even prettier and heavier because they were just cut Monday.”Mike and Sheila laugh in unison when asked about how best to choose and care for a tree, “If the needles pull off it’s no good—other than that it’s strictly personal preference,” said Mike, citing the example of his wife’s desire to have a tree with gaps in it.”Our grandchildren have stuffed animals and certain ornaments we tuck into those spaces,” said Sheila. The Boyces admit they are not the last ones to put their tree up, but are “near the end” according to Sheila who has moved from her work on the swag to fashioning a beautiful wreath.For many years there has been much discussion over adding certain beverages to the water you put in your tree, but Mike refutes that with an easy solution. “All you need is what falls from the sky,” he said. “Heck, kept in water and under the right conditions a Fraser Fir might last until March just as long as it doesn’t sap over.” Encouraging words for Christmas tree enthusiasts everywhere.This year, Boyce Tree Farm opened for business the weekend before Thanksgiving, and they will keep right on running through Christmas. Mike admits the season has moved back over the years causing their busiest days to inch closer to the Sunday after Thanksgiving.But then sometimes their business comes on Christmas Eve in the form of a family tradition. “For years we had one customer who came every Christmas Eve, and brought his son with their own axe to cut a tree down,” said Mike. “He’d leave the money under our doormat. He was a neighbor and shared with me that the daughter and wife were home stringing popcorn for when they brought the tree home.”The Christmas tree is the center of many heartfelt holiday gatherings. A tree holds our history from the act of decorating to the presents placed beneath.The real gifts of Christmas are the ones that bring us together.