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F eature Story

A Fun, Old-Fashioned, Family Christmas

By Eric D. S. Dorman
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W When Clark Griswold—the patron saint of Christmas (and non-nutritive cereal varnish)—loaded his family into the old front-wheel-drive sleigh and hit the road, he had a goal: embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols. No, not a Santa Claus tie, Audrey. A Christmas tree. A family Christmas tree.

Selecting our family tree was always a highlight of our holiday season. Okay, my parents made the tree selection. The three of us boys just ran around trying to scare each other by weaving in and out from behind and around the trees. I can still smell it (and feel it—getting pushed into the needles isn’t the best sensation in the world, but I’m getting off track).

When living in a city, it can be difficult to maintain traditions or make news ones. My wife and I live in Nashville and, I must admit, we usually just pick up a little tree from a grocery store (you know—the ones they have out on the curb) and put it on top of a table in our apartment. Granted, it’s become something of its own tradition, but I do look forward to the day when we’ll have the space to get something larger from somewhere else.

The point is, at its best, Christmas-tree-hunting should be family fun. And if you can get the “old-fashioned” in there, all the better. Well, at Rhonda & Chris’s Treeland in Watertown, you can have all of the above.

Chris always had an interest in farming and agriculture. He grew up in Pennsylvania near the Poconos and was an outdoorsman. In fact, there were a lot of Christmas tree farms near him while he was a child, so I guess the atmosphere put down some roots.

His love of the outdoors carried over to college, where he focused on watershed management. His career brought him to Tennessee in the late 1980s and, to this day, he works for his local water utility.

In the mid-90s, when Rhonda and Chris were dating, the latter had the idea to start up a Christmas tree farm and Rhonda got on board. She helped him plant the first round of trees. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and Rhonda and Chris are married, and their daughter and granddaughter help out with the tree farm, too. Three generations, all coming together toward a common goal: making the Christmas tree search fun for other families.

Imagine this: It’s Saturday morning. You and your family get up and have a nice breakfast together before everyone bundles up and loads into the car. (Unlike Clark Griswold, the driver doesn’t play chicken with anyone on the road, wind up under a semi, and then jump a snow pile).

You arrive at Rhonda & Chris’s Treeland. There are a few other families there, some of whom you’ve been seeing at the farm for the last few years. Also unlike the Griswolds, you don’t freak out when you realize you forgot to bring a saw. Rhonda and Chris provide all the equipment you need. You begin the search, locate the perfect tree for your needs and cut it down.

While you wait for Rhonda and Chris’s family to bind up your tree, you sit by a nice campfire enjoying some hot chocolate, homemade baked goods and conversation.

There’s no gift shop. There’s no music playing. It’s just what Clark wanted: the quiet, frosty majesty of the winter landscape, and the warmth of kith and kin.

Who wouldn’t enjoy that? I’d half expect to see Jimmy Stewart there.

It takes a lot of work for Rhonda and Chris to provide this seamless experience for their friends and customers. They have 90 acres of trees, some of which are recently planted, and others that are ready to grace someone’s living room. And there’s only a short window of time in which to head out to the farm and get your tree. Remember, this is a family farm and family endeavor. They don’t have shift employees driving in from different parts of town. They open at 8 a.m. and stay open until dark, from November 26-30, and again on December 5 and 6.

So this Christmas, start a tradition. Head over to Rhonda & Chris’s Treeland and kick off your fun, old-fashioned, family Christmas. You’ll thank yourself, and you’ll certainly outdo the Griswolds. For more information, visit www.treelandtn.com.

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