Done properly, the quest for a Christmas tree can be a bonding experience, an afternoon of outdoor family fun where you make precious holiday memories for rosy-cheeked children.
Done wrong, you end up with pine needles in your ears, the kids are wind-burned and crying, and, if you're not careful with that saw, you'll be asking Santa for a new thumb.
Here are some things to consider in your search for holiday magic.
Tools needed: Tape measure, twine, gloves, saw, leaf blower. Santa hat is optional.
Size, shape and location: Know where the tree is going — and not near a heat source or in a high-traffic area. Get a tape measure and determine how much room is available — and take the tape measure with you to the lot.
“On any tree grown commercially, the goal is a full, shapely tree,” said Lynn Mammel of Santa's Woods near Blair. “The 5- to 6-foot-tall range is pretty common” among customers.
The size most people seem to want at Omaha's Indian Creek Nursery is in the 6- to 8-foot range. Even shoppers minding their budgets are attracted to the larger trees, said owner Scott Farrington.
“It's a matter of space — you have to have the right space for it — but it's also a matter of tradition.”
There's no shortage of places to find cut trees: Nurseries, farmer's markets, supermarket parking lots and fundraisers for groups such as Boy Scouts troops are all places to find a tree.
Or drive out of the city and cut your own at tree farms. A list of tree farms can be found at the Nebraska Department of Agriculture website and at www.pickyourownchristmastree.org.
Pick a winner: Full, thick trees look great on the lot. It's not until you try to decorate it that you realize there's no room for ornaments. So choose a tree that has gaps that you can fill in with decorations. As for the type of tree, family tradition and personal preference often guide that choice.
Nebraskans tend to think of a Scotch pine as a “typical Christmas tree,” Mammel said. But others sell well, too. At Santa's Woods, the selection includes Canaan, Concolor and Douglas firs and Scotch, White and Eastern White pines.
At Indian Creek, the 3-to-1 bestseller over all other varieties is the Fraser fir, because it stays fresh so long, Farrington said.
The Douglas fir is next most popular because it is unsheared and has a natural appearance. Like the Fraser fir, the Douglas has short, relatively soft needles.
However, there is a more important consideration than the tree's variety.
“Type doesn't matter as much as condition,” Mammel said.
Availability: There will be plenty of locally grown trees this year despite the drought, said Dennis Adams of the Nebraska Forest Service. He estimated that 25,000 Nebraska-grown trees will be available. Growers have said the summer's hot, dry conditions won't affect supplies for several yeears, if then.
Freshness test: Look for natural green, not the green dye that often gets sprayed on before shipment. Run a limb or two through your hand to see if needles stay attached. Pick the tree up a few inches and drop it, letting the stump hit the ground. Watch for a shower of dead needles.
Final prep: Before taking it in the house, cut one-half to an inch off the end of the trunk to let the tree absorb water, 1 to 2 gallons of water a day. If you have a leaf blower, use it to dislodge loose needles, insects or anything else that may be lurking.
The National Christmas Tree Association's website, realchristmastrees.org, has more information.