I’m so pleased to be a new blogger here at Stay Work Play. I love living in New Hampshire, and my roots here run very deep—my family has been staying, working, and playing in the Granite State for almost four hundred years! A lot has changed since my ancestors first set foot on this soil, but I’d like to think that those of us who choose to make our homes here (and willingly endure these cold, snowy winters) share a bit of their hearty, adventurous spirit.
Over the centuries my family has migrated from the state’s eastern shore all the way to its western edge, just a stone’s throw away from our watery and winding border with Vermont. Although we both grew up in Keene, my husband Damian and I now make our home in the picturesque town of Walpole with our two children, Lillia and Zane.
A New Hampshire Christmas
For my first post, I want to share a very quintessentially New Hampshire activity, albeit one that would be foreign to my early colonial forbears: my family’s annual quest for the perfect, freshly-cut Christmas tree. For years we have been getting our trees at Walpole’s own Homestead Farms, a real gem of a four-season operation just a couple of miles down the road from where we live.
While my husband and I are relative newcomers to this part of the state, the founders of Homestead Farms can trace their Walpole ancestry back to the 1700s. Dale and Colleen Hubbard first planted Christmas trees on their farm thirty years ago, and they have built a successful business selling trees and the other fruits of their labor. Highlights from each growing season on the farm include: fresh vegetables and berries in the summer; pumpkins, gourds, and mums in the fall; Christmas trees and wreaths in the winter; and homemade baked goods throughout the year. Members of the founders’ family still help run the business today.
I’m no Grinch, but we do tend to get our tree later in December because it needs to last through the Twelve Days of Christmas which begin on Christmas Day and run through Epiphany (January 6th). In fact, in earlier times it was typical to leave Christmas greenery up all the way until Candlemas (February 2nd), but not a day later—bad luck would surely follow those who left their desiccated trees and wreaths up into the Lenten season!
Sleigh-Bells and Cocoa
For those of us who enjoy a bit of nostalgia, Homestead Farms has that classic tree farm ambiance in spades. Shortly after we arrive, a tractor-drawn cart whisks us down to the far reaches of the farm, where this year’s crop of trees lies. In years past the cart has been pulled by two beautiful draft horses, but we are told that the previous weekend was so busy that the horses needed a long rest. From our vantage point high up in the cart, we can see the black ribbon of the Connecticut River as it winds between the farms that hug its banks. Rising from the barren fields, the deep blue and distant hills of Vermont are dusted with snow.
When we arrive at our destination, we all jump down from the cart and disperse among the well-manicured evergreens, each of us searching for that special tree that will be the centerpiece of the season’s festivities. The final tree selection is always made by the kids, so I try not to get too attached to any of the specimens I encounter.
Our six-year-old son pinballs between the trees, appearing and disappearing periodically among the rows, and marking multiple trees with a big letter Z (for Zane) in the snow. Eventually, he settles on a stout, densely-branched spruce, and proclaims it “perfect.” A few quick zips of the handsaw and the tree is ours.
We ride the cart back up the hill to the farm’s little gift shop. Despite its modest footprint, the shop contains a large assortment of local products for sale including New Hampshire maple syrup, local jams, hand-knits, and Homestead Farms’ legendary, old-fashioned cider doughnuts. The doughnuts are complimentary with a tree purchase, but they also have several different varieties for sale; we never leave without buying a box or two. We warm our hands and bellies with steamy, rich hot chocolate before reluctantly heading home. Now the real work begins—there are lights to wrestle with, ornaments to hang, and presents to wrap and place under the tree.