What makes a tree the cream of the crop at a Christmas tree farm? Specifications vary from family to family, but for siblings Will, Emily and Lizzy Barrouk, the deciding factor comes courtesy of a certain jolly bearded man.
“They usually end up picking out whatever they end up bonding with,” said the siblings’ mother, Jessica Cronauer, while she and her children explored Kalie’s Christmas Tree Farm in Shickshinny. “Our tree has to be not too big, and we look for a good shape, something healthy. And they always get a note from Santa in their tree, we’ll be looking for that too.”
For families that choose a natural tree during the holiday season, visiting Christmas tree farms can become an annual tradition. While Cronauer, her mother, Lynn, and her three children laid the foundation for a new tradition when they visited Kalie’s Tree Farm for the first time, Brian Benedetti and his nephew, Dean, kept a 36-year steak alive.
After growing up in Parsons, Dean, 40, moved to Baltimore, Md., in 2001, but he returns to the area every year to keep his and his uncle’s tradition of visiting Helen & Ed’s Tree Farm in Wapwallopen alive.
“They make you feel like you pick and choose what you want and you have the ability to cut your own tree down,” Dean said. “It’s just nostalgic.”
The deciding factor when the Benedettis are picking a tree is height. But that’s an ongoing battle for the nephew/uncle duo. Dean pushes for a tall tree while Brian looks for something short.
“He’s 0-for-36, I think,” Dean said.
The ongoing shutout seems to be one tradition Brian has come to terms with.
“I have no chance of winning,” Brian said.
Helen & Ed’s Tree Farm was started in the early ’60s by Helen and Ed Myslowski. After graduating from Penn State and spending eight years at an environmental consulting firm, Ed Myslowski Jr. took over the family business in 1996.
“It’s a labor of love,” Myslowski said. “It’s very nice to see people’s faces and how happy the customers are. We try to produce the best product we can. I enjoy doing it and I look forward to it.”
Shickshinny small business Kalie’s Christmas Tree Farm — a 30-minute drive from Helen & Ed’s — has a way’s to go to catch up to the latter’s 50-plus year history, but owner Andrew Kalie is celebrating 10 years of operation.
“It was something that I always wanted to do when I was younger,” Kalie said. “I was always into the outdoors and this is a way I can also give back to the kids. I like the feeling — the Christmas feeling — when the kids come here and I like to see the families come out and the good time that they have. It’s an enjoyable experience.”
Kalie, who’s also a member of the United States Air Force Reserve and until recently worked a full-time construction job near Philadelphia, has his eye on expansion. Three years ago he added a gift shop full of Christmas-themed crafts, and his crop of Christmas trees increases annually by the thousands.
Kalie’s Christmas Tree Farm offers a variety of tree species, but the Frasier fir is its best-selling variety — Cronauer and her family are among those who pick the Frasier for its soft needles and strong branches. Cronauer said that after Santa helps them choose a tree, the day’s traditions continue when they get home.
“We’ll be decorating most of the night,” Cronauer said. “Christmas music, Christmas movies, hot chocolate, the whole nine. It’s really a solid six-week commitment, making the season magical.”