It was a bright and sunny day. Freezing cold. Everywhere, white frost sparkled and crunched underfoot as we made our way across the long grass of the paddock, to the stand of Christmas trees by the creek.
We were undertaking a British tradition, as introduced to us by Mike: the yearly finding of the Christmas tree.
Apparently, the traditions are:
1.) You actually have a *real* Christmas tree. And it's not a Radiata (North American) Pine, either. It has short little needles. The same type of tree seems to be standard throughout Hampshire, if not most of the UK.
(Here is the one we eventually chose.)
2.) Taking a tractor ride to the stand of pines grown for the occasion.
I thought he was joking, and that it was just for the kids. But, no. Everyone climbs on the back of a trailer pulled by a tractor with straw bales for seats. The tractor is decorated. Cheesily.
3.) Picking a tree takes a long time. Actual arguments break out over which is the "best" tree. One with the perfect blend of symmetry, an even "spread" of branches vertically, and strong top branches to put angels on.
4.) The company lends you spades (so you can literally dig up your tree and plant it in a bucket) or a saw.
It's a huge family affair, and everyone takes photos.
The Christmas tree farm also doubled as fishing ponds stocked with fish, where you could sit and fish, for a fee. (I think that's cheating, but the Brits are big on fishing and who has a fishing licence and who gets what spot. Meh.) The night before, the temperature had been around -6*C after midnight. A hoar frost. The pond had ice on it. Mike threw a stick into the water. It skittered across the surface and came to rest. The top of the pond was solid ice, about 2cm thick.
I wanted to put Sheepie on top of the ice for a photo, but I didn't want to fall in. So Brendan was leaning down to put him on the ice when the old man who had been driving the tractor saw us from the other side of the paddock, and bellowed, "Oi! Don't break the ice! You'll scare the fish!" I think he misunderstood what we were doing, because Brendan was holding a small saw in the other hand.
After looking at many, many trees, eventually Mike was satisfied he'd found the best one, although it was slightly bare at the back. It was surprisingly light to carry.
(Mike had a Christmas party with 60 mince pies and most of the village attending. The village kids absolutely loved decorating it! Brendan and I are not huge mince pie fans, so we ate far too many Roses chocolates instead and had to buy Mike a new tin! And then we ate half of that one in one day too. Oops...)
I hope y'all have a fantastic and safe Christmas holiday - we're going to be spending Christmas Day with Brendan's aunty Yvonne, uncle Andrew and cousin Turner (and friends) down in Southampton. Which will be fun, I think. We're having a no-present Christmas this year, owing to cost of postage>funds.