Christmas tree farms around the area open this weekend, gearing up for families who wouldn't think of celebrating the holiday season with anything but a freshly cut tree they bring down themselves.
Despite the dismal economy, there's hope among the area's 300 Christmas tree growers that otherwise skittish consumers will dig deep to celebrate this holiday season.
"When it comes to trees, people will find the money to buy," says J. C. Kirby, owner of JCK Trees near Westminster.
"People will spend money to buy a beautiful tree, even if they have nothing to put under it," adds Helen Winter, owner of the 32-acre Frostee Trees in Perry Hall.
Brian Adelhardt, of Applewood Farms east of Whiteford, is convinced Christmas trees will be around even when money is scarce. People will just buy the less expensive ones, he believes, like the white pines and scotch pines that start at around $25.
"I suspect the Christmas tree is like the cosmetic industry," Mr. Adelhardt says. "In a slow-down, people who may not buy a new car or a new house may spend a little to buy cosmetics to make them feel better. People will cut back on other places before they cut back on the traditional means of celebration."
For many families -- like the McDonalds of Kingsville -- decking the halls for the holiday season just wouldn't be the same without that freshly cut Christmas tree.
The smell of pine and the prickly tickle of needles brings back bygone years and the memories of childhood, says Bibiana McDonald. "Besides the look and the smell, it's the tradition of it, most of all," adds Ms. McDonald, whose family has for years spurned artificial imitations to cut-and-choose their own tree.
"That's what my family did," she says, "so it's like getting the tradition back."
Christmas trees were always a mainstay in the McDonald household of eight kids. One year, times were so tough and money so tight that her father bought two scrawny Christmas trees, sawed them down the center and nailed two sides together to make one grand one.
"When he had it together, it was gorgeous," she remembers. "You couldn't even see where he cut it."
The Guenthners of Bel Air have turned cutting their own Christmas tree into annual family outings. For more than a dozen years, the entire family -- Fred, Yvonne, Sondra and Beth -- have been going to Pleasant Hill Tree Farm in Monkton, where owner George Lock will greet you at the gate and hand you a tree saw to cut your tree.
"It's just fun," said Mr. Guenthner. "It's one of the few family things we do together. You don't wear your Sunday best, because you get down on your knees to cut the tree down."
It would be a last resort for Mr. Guenthner to purchase his tree from a corner retail lot, he says. "Only if the whole family's sick and we couldn't go out."
For first-time cutters, George Roche of the Maryland Department of Agriculture advises people not to be overly ambitious.
"Remember before you leave the house to stand in the area where you're going to put the tree," he says. "Stick your hand above your head and measure, because when you get to the farm, the sky's a big ceiling. All of a sudden, you're lugging this tree home and you can't get it through the doorway."