Stephen and Alice Au learned last holiday season that shopping locally, while convenient, does not always draw the best results.
In their case, it came down to the green.
“We started last year and we bought our Christmas tree locally, but it wasn’t the same experience,” said Stephen Au, of Forest Hills, Queens.
So this year, the couple took a day trip to Lewin Farms’ Baiting Hollow Nursery in Calverton on Nov. 25 with their sons, Nathaniel, 6, and Alistair, 4, for a fresh take on the newfound family tradition. The Aus were joined by their friends Andrea and Jordan Zhu, of Bayside, Queens, and their three children, who range in age from 1 to 6. The Zhus had purchased a live tree on Long Island in previous years.
Hundreds scoured the grounds for $40 precut and u-cut finds at the 100-acre farm.
The farm grows Douglas fir — the most popular Christmas tree, and the one it has the most of, which is characterized by its fullness — as well as even bushier white pines and several spruce varieties.
For many families, cutting down a Christmas tree is an annual event that marks the start of the holiday season, farm owners say. The smell of a real tree and the selection process is all part of the annual allure of an investment that typically lasts a month.
Stephen Au, 38, said his family also considers it environmentally friendly.
“It’s a family experience,” said Matt Marple, 40, owner of Matt’s Christmas Tree Farm in Manorville. “The kids grow up so fast. Parents like to come here and take pictures.”
At Matt’s, visitors can take photos with Santa Claus, who roams the property greeting guests, at no charge noon to 4 p.m. daily except Tuesdays. Guests also have the option to take a complimentary trailer ride on the grounds where animals such as sheep and chickens have their own space.
A BLACK FRIDAY TRADITION
Patricia Blach has spent the day after Thanksgiving tree shopping for as many years as her 22-year-old daughter, Nicole, has been alive.
This year was no exception. Blach much prefers deciding between a spruce or fir at a cut-your-own-Christmas tree farm than wrestling fellow shoppers for a smart TV or tablet on the national shoppers holiday.
Blach traveled one hour from her East Williston home to Mike’s Christmas Tree Farm in Manorville with Nicole and daughter Alexandra, 19.
The Blachs were among hundreds of Long Islanders who traded the store aisles on Black Friday for the farm rows of Suffolk County.
Cindy Viola, 40, of Holtsville, visited Matt’s the day after Thanksgiving with her husband, Andrew, 42, and children, Julie and Anthony.
“The kids wanted a new experience,” Cindy Viola said of her reason for purchasing a real tree this year for the first time. “And our artificial one died.”
The parents left the final decision up to Julie, 15, and Anthony, 12.
“It has to look like the artificial ones, but real,” Julie said of one of her selection criteria.
But it couldn’t be too full, otherwise it wouldn’t fit in their living room, Cindy Viola was quick to advise.
Within an hour or so, the family had purchased a balsam fir.
Next door, at Mike’s, Patricia Blach also let her children find their final cut: a 6-foot $100 spruce.
It was compulsory for Nicole and Alexandra that it be “a fat, full tree,” the elder sibling said.
Blach, meanwhile, had an even simpler requirement: “It has to be tall enough to fit in our home.”