While many people have switched to fake trees, some Labradorians are keeping tradition alive
© Derek Montague
Greg Gear poses with two of his daughters and wife, in front of their beautiful, real, Christmas tree.
From left to right: Greg Gear, Hilary Gear, Nancy Gear, and Alice Gear.
It’s seems like an unstoppable Christmas trend. To the dismay of many traditionalists, more and more people are erecting artificial trees during the holiday season.
It’s easy to see why a plastic pine is so appealing to a modern family; there’s no mess to clean up, it’s easy to assemble and dismantle, you can put it up whenever you want without having to worry about it dying or drying out, and there’s no fire hazard.
Even in places like Labrador, which are filled with lush boreal forest, these artificial trees are rapidly replacing the natural firs in people’s living rooms.
But there are still those in the Big Land who refuse to be carried away with the trend. These folks still have sentimental attachments to real Christmas trees, and are willing to put in hours and hours of hard work to find the perfect fir every year.
Greg Gear of Happy Valley-Goose Bay has always had a real Christmas tree growing up. And even when life became busy with a wife and three daughters, he continued his quest in the woods for a real tree each Christmas.
“I wouldn’t even consider an artificial, I’m the Christmas tree man,” says Greg.
“We always had them at home growing up. The smell when you bring it into the house, you can’t beat it.”
In fact, you would be hard pressed to find another man in Labrador who has cut more Christmas trees than Greg Gear. That’s because, for many years, Greg also sold trees that he cut himself. He estimates that, ever since he was a teenager, 2500 Christmas trees were chopped down with his axe.
“I was 17 years old when I started doing it. I needed some money to buy a gift for my girlfriend,” says Gear with a smile.
Even some people of the younger generations are resisting the urge to purchase an artificial tree. Kelly Hopkins and her boyfriend Mike Montague are spending their first Christmas in their first house. To celebrate the holiday season, they cut a big, lush, 12-foot tree that they erected in their living room. Like Greg Gear, Kelly grew up with real trees every single Christmas.
“We had some pretty rough looking ones, sometimes we had to drill holes in them. But we always had a real tree,” says Kelly.
“I like the smell, the look…going out to get it, the tradition of it; being out there searching for the right tree.”
Some people have turned to buying cultivated trees for Christmas, instead of going artificial. But for people like Greg and Kelly, a cultivated tree simply doesn’t cut it. For them, going out in the woods and hunting down a tree is part of the joy that the holiday seasons bring.
“Being a hunter and a Labrador person, I’m in the woods as much as possible,” says Greg. “Just to get outdoors, I’ll get any excuse at all for a look around.”
“Just knowing that you took the effort in picking out that tree,” says Kelly. “ It’s not as fun when you go out and get a cultivated tree.”
Both Kelly and Greg say that it took extra work this year to find their Christmas tree. Pesky insects, like the spruce budworm, have made many trees useless as Christmas decorations.
“It was hard because…all the way to Goose Bay, you’ll see red in the trees where the insects got at them,” says Kelly. “So you need to be really choosey about where you’re going. If not, you’ll end up with red branches…”
Greg says that he used to know of 20 different spots where he could find a lot of good Christmas trees, but those spots are starting to become sparser.
“You’d have a hard time finding the Charlie Brown Christmas tree in some spots now,” he says.
But Greg and Kelly both say they’ll never switch to artificial, no matter how challenging it becomes to get a real tree. That’s because, unlike artificial ones, real trees are different and unique every year. Their imperfections are what make them beautiful.
“I love the fact that you cut a tree from the woods and you get something different…” Says Greg.
“I enjoy the uniqueness of each tree.”