The Christmas season is a whirlwind of shopping, eating and celebrating with friends and family.
And, of course, honoring holiday traditions. For many families, searching for -- and cutting down -- the perfect tree is the first ritual that kicks off the season.
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Cut-your-own-tree farms around the suburbs don't just offer the tree, but also perks like visits with Santa, wagon rides and hot chocolate. Owners are hoping families will create a festive memory together -- minus the tree drama found in movie classics like "A Christmas Story" and "Deck the Halls."
So gather up the kids, the gear -- even the dog! -- and head out to your local farm.
Ben's Christmas Tree Farm
7719 Ryan Road, Harvard, (630) 279-0216, benstreefarm.com
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 22
Price: Trees start at $39
The 55-acre organic farm in McHenry County offers nine varieties of trees including balsam fir, Norway spruce and Scotch pine. Saws and twine, as well as wagon rides to the fields, are complimentary. Afterward, hot chocolate and coffee will warm you up. The farm has animals for kids, and Santa makes on-site visits. Wreaths, decorations and cider doughnuts also are available. Leashed pets are welcome.
"We provide everything people need for a beautiful day in the country," says owner Chris Czarnowski.
Honeybee Acres Christmas Tree Farm
41W072 Bowes Road, Elgin, (847) 464-9627, honeybeeacreschristmastreefarm.net
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday through Dec. 15
Price: $29-$49 per tree
The family-run farm offers three types of trees, up to 10 feet tall, and prices have been lowered this year. "I call this my Christmas tree Affordable Care Act," says owner Kurt Straub. "I dropped my price way down to help sell more trees."
Bring a plastic bag, a handsaw and a blanket or tarp for the car. After cutting down a tree, families can take a picture with it in Santa's sleigh. Santa is on-site every day. The Reindeer Café serves breakfast and lunch, including 13 flavors of hot chocolate. Visitors should check the website before coming for tree sales. "People love taking pictures with their trees; many put it on their Christmas card," Straub said.
Ide Christmas Tree Farm
1500 83rd St., Downers Grove, (630) 743-4032, idechristmastrees.com
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 22, as well as 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday through end of season. For updated hours or weather changes, call in advance.
Price: $65 per tree
This farm is all about the trees -- no gimmicks, no distractions, just family time to prepare for the holiday season, owners say. Bring the family, park along the edge of a field, find your tree, cut it down and take it back to the car.
This year, the 35-acre farm has its biggest ever selection of trees -- 45,000 -- with some reaching 15 feet tall. Visitors can choose among several varieties of spruce and pine. The self-serve operation offers saws for a $5 deposit, and tree hauler wagons are available. Credit cards are not accepted.
Marmion's Abbey Farms
850 Butterfield Road, Aurora, (630) 936-0034, abbeyfarms.org
Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Dec. 23
Price: You-cut trees are $45, pre-cut trees are $8 per foot
Run by the monks of Marmion Abbey since 1949, the nonprofit farm offers more than 120 acres of trees. You-cut and pre-cut trees are available. Every tree comes with complimentary shaking and netting and doughnuts and hot chocolate. The seasonal store offers unique gifts, jams and more. Sleds are provided if there is snow. Saw rental is a refundable $10.
Nature's Best Christmas Trees
13001 Illinois Highway 76, Poplar Grove, (815) 765-2960, naturesbesttrees.com
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday through Dec. 22
Price: $8 to $10 per foot
The 15-acre old-fashioned Christmas tree farm has been selling trees for more than 21 years. It offers eight types, including Fraser fir, black hills spruce and white pine, and all are hand-sheared to maintain an open, natural shape. Staff will help tie the tree to the car. Visitors should check out the farm's handmade wreaths, garlands and hanging baskets, and sample the honey -- the farm has 50 active beehives -- and gingerbread cookies. Homemade honey is also for sale.
"I joke that we are the 'Cheers Bar' of Christmas tree farms, as I know everyone's name, family, story and love to catch up each holiday," says owner Alison Kiene. "Sometimes, I think our customers just come to relax, hang out for as long as they want, talk about their year, experience a wonderful annual tradition and drink my famous hot chocolate."
Oney's Tree Farm
16608 U.S. Highway 14, Woodstock, (855) 804-3702, oneystreefarm.com
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Dec. 15
Oney's Tree Farm, the oldest and largest tree farm in Northern Illinois, is where families have come for Christmas memories and traditions for more than 50 years. The 60-acre farm offers more than 60,000 trees in nine varieties, including cut-your-own trees, pre-cut trees or pre-cut trees with roots for later planting. Free weekend horse-drawn wagon rides with sleigh bells are offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mrs. Claus is available for visits in the North Pole house, and the bakery offers lunch, hot cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate.
"Our horse-drawn wagon rides help make the (visit) nostalgic," says owner Dawn Peterson. "It's like stepping back in time to a simpler Christmas. You can buy a tree anywhere, but we're about families sharing memories together and beginning the holidays together."
Pioneer Tree Farm
4614 Pioneer Road, McHenry, (815) 385-8512, pioneertreefarm.com
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 15
Price: $45 per tree
Open since 1973, Pioneer Tree Farm grows varieties of pines, junipers, firs and spruces. The farm offers free wagon rides to the fields, tree shaking and baling. Visitors can warm up with hot chocolate and coffee while browsing handcrafted gifts in the warming house. A percentage of tree sales is donated to the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, an advocacy group.
"All trees are organically raised," says owner Bill Howenstine. "Come for an enjoyable time in a natural environment."
9407 Richardson Road, Spring Grove, (815) 675-9729, richardsonadventurefarm.com
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Dec. 23
Price: $29-$59 per tree
Richardson Farm -- known for hosting the world's largest corn maze -- offers 50,000 Christmas trees of various sizes and varieties across 75 acres. On the weekends, enjoy fresh doughnuts and kettle corn, as well as free wagon rides to the trees. Every day, there is free hot chocolate and coffee, fresh fudge and complimentary tree shaking and baling. The farm has a large heated barn with indoor restrooms, and handsaws are provided. Make sure to check out the fresh wreaths and decorations.
"We're hoping for people to establish a family tradition," says co-owner Carol Richardson. "We give people a place where they can come every year and make it a tradition for their family."
Ziegler Christmas Tree Farm
42W109 McDonald Road, Elgin, (847) 464-5776, zieglerchristmastreefarm.com
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 1, 7 and 8. After that, call ahead or check the website before visiting.
Price: $39-$69 per tree
The West suburban family-run farm offers hand-trimmed trees -- up to 14 feet tall -- along with wreaths and garlands. Baling and shaking is free; saws are available. Only cash and checks are accepted. Cider, hot cocoa and other treats will be offered. Dogs are welcome, and, as in previous years, Chicagoland Dog Rescue will be on site with dogs available for adoption. Check the website before coming for special sales.
"Visitors are guaranteed a fresh product, whether it be wreaths, trees, or whatever," says owner Janice Ziegler. "People always have a good time, and our prices are reasonable."