Fans of real Christmas trees will tell you it isn't Christmas until it smells like Christmas.
They'll trudge through snowy fields at farms throughout McHenry County to find just the right tree to fill their homes with that fresh evergreen scent.
"For me personally, it's more Christmas to have a real tree," said Bradley Shaw, farm manager for Tamarack Farms Christmas Trees in Richmond. "The people who like them cut like the smell of the tree, the feeling of the tree."
Like others throughout the area, Tamarack Farms is open weekends now through Christmas, offering visitors the chance to cut their own trees. Any size and type of tree costs $55 at the farm, where employees will help haul, shake, bail and tie down the trees if necessary.
Because some of the trees have been growing more than a decade, Tamarack has trees up to 12-feet tall for those with cathedral ceilings, Shaw said. And of course, smaller trees are available, as well.
"They can actually see what the tree is going to look like when they put it in their living rooms," Shaw said.
Perks, such as the free hot chocolate and cookies at Tamarack, often come along with the farm visits.
At Oney's Tree Farm in Woodstock, open daily and believed to be the oldest and largest in the area, Mrs. Claus greets visitors on the weekends, and free horse-drawn wagons take customers to and from their trees, even hauling the trees back from the field.
"We think it's stepping back in time," Owner Dawn Peterson said.
She's watched at least four generations of families make Oney's a Christmas tradition since the 1960s. Pony rides, a gift shop, hot lunches and the farm's "famous cinnamon rolls" also are available.
"A 12-year-old told me one time that Christmas didn't start until she got her cinnamon roll," Peterson said.
At Oney's, visitors can harvest their own, pick out a pre-cut tree or buy a tree with roots for later planning, with prices varying depending on the size and type of tree. Prices start at $30 for a tree less than 5 feet, while pre-cut trees start at $68.
"Even in recession, depression, good times and bad times, it always seems to be pretty consistent," Peterson said of her customer base. "I find that's actually a testament to what Christmas is about. It's about faith, hope and love, all positive things. So even in a recession, people still want to hold to that ideal. It's very important to them. That's a testament of goodness that our numbers remain consistent, because that means families are celebrating."
CHRISTMAS TREE FARMS – Here are some local Christmas tree farms in McHenry County.
ANTHONY'S TREE FARM – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends through Dec. 15, 320 Raycraft Road, Woodstock. Information: www.anthonystreefarm.com.
BEN'S CHRISTMAS TREE FARM – 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekends through Dec. 22, 7719 Ryan Road, Harvard, 630-279-0216.
BILL’S FRIENDLY CHRISTMAS TREE FARM – 8 a.m. to dusk daily through Dec. 22, 3102 W. Miller Road, Spring Grove, 847-770-1421.
CAL AND SHAN'S CHRISTMAS TREE FARM – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends to Dec. 22, 14216 Thayer Road and 3509 Lily Pond Road, Woodstock, 815-648-2300.
GRANDPA'S CHRISTMAS TREE FARM – 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Dec. 7-8 and 14-15, 13616 Route 176, Woodstock, 815-337-2682. All trees $56 (shaking, baling and tax included).
GRIZZY'S TREE FARM – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends to Dec. 15, 15900 Marengo Road, Union, 847-812-2961.
M & M CHRISTMAS TREE FARM – 9 a.m. to dusk weekends through Dec. 15, 11715 Brier Hill Road, Huntley, 847-275-8720.
MT. THABOR TREE FARM – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends and 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday through Dec. 15, 4813 Mt. Thabor Road, Woodstock, 815-382-6938.
ONEY'S TREE FARM AND NURSERY – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Dec. 15, 16608 Route 14, Woodstock, 815-338-4108.
PINE-APPLE FARM – 9 a.m. to dusk weekends, 309 Three Oaks Road, Cary, 847-639-3248.
PIONEER TREE FARM – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 7-8, and 14-15, 4614 Pioneer Road, McHenry, 815-385-8512. All trees $45. Ten percent of tree sales donated to Environmental Defenders of McHenry County.
RICHARDSON CHRISTMAS TREES – 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily to Dec. 23, 9405 Richardson Road, Spring Grove, 815-675-9729. Trees from $29-$59.
TAMARACK FARMS – 10 a.m. to dusk Friday through Sunday through Dec. 22, 6219 W. Broadway, Richmond, 815-678-3500.By JAMI KUNZER - firstname.lastname@example.org