First day of Christmas

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 29, 2013

SALISBURY — If you don’t count the trees on sale at grocery stores, Icicle Mountain Christmas Trees on Jake Alexander was the only “tree lot” open in Salisbury on Thanksgiving Day.
Before noon on Thanksgiving morning, when the ground is still crunchy with ice, a truck pulled into the parking lot, and a family got out to look at trees.
Jeff and Tootsie Billings and their children, Allie, 18, and Lake, 17, set off under the tent to start shopping for the perfect Christmas centerpiece.
They’re one of many families for whom Thanksgiving is the first day of the Christmas season, and who spend part of Thanksgiving tree-shopping.
“It won’t be long,” Tootsie said. “We usually can make a decision pretty quick.”
This year’s tree shopping trip happened early because Allie is home from college, Tootsie said.
She’s going back to Chapel Hill for exams, so they wanted to get the tree now so she could come along.
“How tall a tree do we look for? Eight foot?” Allie asked.
The tent was full of Fraser firs, varying in size from child-sized saplings to a 10-foot monument of a tree that seems to nearly hit the top of the tent.
Staff member Brandon Lucas said all the trees were cut within the past week. “These are all grown in Ashe and Watauga counties, near Boone,” he said.
Morning and evening, shoppers at Icicle Mountain said they wanted a live tree, because they look and smell nicer.
And many said they kept coming back to this lot because the trees seem to last longer.
“We always want a live tree,” Jeff Billings said.
“Fresher trees like this one … stand up strong,” Jeff said.
“You have to twirl for us!” Tootsie said, and Jeff walked over to the tree they were gazing at. He spun it around in its stand so they could see all sides.
It didn’t take long to pick the perfect tree, but the Billingses took their time. It’s an important holiday symbol.
“Christmas Eve is my birthday,” Allie said, smiling brightly.
“She gets two days of gifts,” Lake said, matter-of-factly.
As the family went on looking, Jeff said he looked forward to spending time with family and friends at the holidays.
A lot of times, Jeff said, he’d tell his wife and kids to go ahead and pick a tree without him, since he had to work late.
“They’ll always wait, even if it’s after dark, until a time when I can go as well,” Jeff said.
Sometimes, he said, they’re the last ones to leave the lot.
Staff at Icicle Mountain said they’re always open on Thanksgiving.
“Today, I think we’ll probably sell at least 30, and then tomorrow will be a busy day, pretty much from the crack of dawn,” Lucas said.
Business is usually slow through the morning, picking up in the afternoon and evening — “I guess after people get done eating lunch and dinner,” Lucas said.
When it’s nice and cold outside, but not too windy, “it gets them in the spirit,” Spencer said.
People prefer to buy their trees from this lot, Lucas said, because they tend to stay fresher longer.
The trees come from a farm of some 200 acres at Helton, and another at the Va. border with perhaps another sixty acres of trees.
Danny Spencer, who runs Icicle Mountain, said most of his business is wholesale. The Salisbury location is his only retail lot, he said.
“I like dealing with the people, and I get to know a lot of the folks,” Spencer said.
Case in point: Gene and Martha Miller, who picked out their tree just after nightfall on Thanksgiving.
They looked on as staff carried it over to the front, gave it a fresh cut with a small electric chainsaw and, finally, pulled it through a large plastic ring that “bags” the tree in plastic mesh for the drive home.
Martha Miller said they used to buy trees from a lot run by Spencer’s brother in Lexington, until Icicle Mountain opened.
And they always go “on Thanksgiving, or the day after,” Miller said.
“If you wait too late, they all get picked over,” she said.
Fraser firs are the only tree in stock, although in some cases exceptions can be made.
“I’ve got a customer who called me specifically for a white pine,” Spencer said. “Some people like them.”
The Icicle Mountain trees come from farms that supply trees to other retailers, including grocery stores in our area, Lucas said.
The North Carolina Fraser firs that are delivered to Canada, or made into live wreaths, started being cut off the lot in September, he said — stored in refrigerated warehouses until time to put them to use.
Not so with these trees, which Lucas said would be sold through in about a week, with a new stock of freshly-cut trees to replace them.
As predicted, by sundown business had picked up.
About 10 people were browsing among the trees inside the tent by 7 p.m.
Andy and Shannon Flowers, of Salisbury, had their kids and Shannon’s father along with them.
They were looking for a tree to go at Andy’s mother’s house in Salisbury.
The Flowerses settled on the 10-foot tree, which Spencer said had been planted about 2002.
When Ethan, age 7, was told the tree was older than he was, he didn’t know quite what to say.
The trip made him happy, “even though Christmas is next month,” Ethan said.
“He’s already been talking about what he wants for Christmas,” Andy said.
A short time later, Billy and Chasy Meres, of Salisbury, brought their whole family shopping.
Every Thanksgiving, they come shopping for a tree.
The next day, they have a ritual: Billy gets the tree into its stand, and Chasy and the kids get the decorations together.
“Tomorrow morning, we’ll have dessert for breakfast from Thanksgiving lunch, and then decorate!” Chasy said.
Michael, 12, said he’s looking forward to putting his UNC Tar Heels helmet ornament on the tree.
As for Emily, 6, shopping for a tree has been a part of her life since she was a baby.
“We had her out here the first year, carrying her, all bundled up,” Chasy said.
Emily was running and hiding among the trees, and tried hard to keep from giggling.
But she already knew which ornament she wanted to see put on the tree.
“The angel,” Emily said, smiling.
When she was asked which tree was her favorite, Emily — the smallest person in the tent just then — pointed up to the biggest 10-foot tree in the place.
The Christmas season may just be beginning, but the big dreams are already there.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.