Do it yourself: Kick off the holidays by cutting your own tree at a local farm
For many families in the Chicago area, traditional Christmas celebrations start in November when they cut their own trees at a local farm.
"We have people who came as kids and they have their own children they're bringing out there now," said Justin Czarnowski, co-owner of Ben's Christmas Tree Farm in Harvard. "It's an experience."
Justin's father, Ben, started the farm in 1982 and the business remains a family affair for both the owners and customers.
"You get to spend a whole day with your family in the country for just the price of the tree," Czarnowski said. "It's just a good place to hang out and get away from the Black Friday craziness of shopping. You can take as much time as you want. We've got a nature trail if you just want to go for a walk."
The tradition has been disrupted a bit over the past few years because of the pandemic, but the business continues to thrive. A drought this year affected some of the farm's younger trees, which will impact future harvests, but the older trees survived, even if they might be a bit shorter than usual. Last year the farm canceled its horse-drawn wagon rides to the fields and installed an outdoor payment window to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the pandemic actually led to a boom in business.
"We have over 100 acres, so there's plenty of room to space out," Czarnowski said. "It was one of the few things you could do in November and December."
If you're looking to kick off your holiday season by cutting down your own tree, here are some of the places you can go and the festive amenities they offer.
2855 Hart Road, Aurora, (630) 966-7775 or abbeyfarms.org/
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily Saturday, Nov. 20, through Thursday, Dec. 23
Trees: Cut your own scotch, white or Austrian pine for $62.50 or spruce for $76 for up to six feet. Precut trees are $12-$18 per foot.
Also: Tree shaking, baling, fastening, a doughnut and hot chocolate are included with a purchase, and saws can be rented for a $10 cash deposit. Wreaths, garland, bath products, wine and other gifts are for sale in the farm store. Photos with Santa are available for $20 per person at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Dec. 4-5 and 10 a.m. Dec. 11-12. Reservations are required and include hot chocolate, six apple cider doughnuts, a coloring book with crayons, and a gift. New this year, the farm has added The Emporium Café, a full-service restaurant with a fireplace.
Ben's Christmas Tree Farm
7719 Ryan Road, Harvard, (630) 279-0216 or benstreefarm.com/
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Nov. 26-28, and Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 4-5
Trees: Choose from eight varieties of trees, including Norway spruce, white pine and balsam fir for $7 to $13 per foot, with 6.5-foot minimums.
Also: Staff will shake and bale your tree while you warm up with complimentary hot chocolate and coffee. Take a tractor wagon or horse-drawn carriage ride out to the field. Handmade Fraser fir wreaths and garlands are available for purchase. Leashed pets are welcome. Kids can also meet Santa and play with goats and pigs on the farm.
Grandpa's Christmas Tree Farm
13616 Route 176, Woodstock, (815) 337-2682 or grandpastreefarm.com/
Hours: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Nov. 26-28, and Saturdays and Sundays, Dec. 4-5 and 11-12
Trees: Choose from thousands of pine trees in every shape and size for $75. Most are 5 to 6 feet tall.
Also: Hot chocolate, saws, twine, shaking and baling are included.
Larson's Family Farm
4404 Somonauk Road, Sandwich, (815) 786-2249 or larsonfamilyfarm.com/
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 27-28, Dec. 4-5, 11-12 and 18; and 2-4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays through Dec. 17
Trees: Choose from 18 acres of Canaan and white fir, blue and Norway spruce, and Scotch and white pine for $50.
Also: Saws are provided and trees are shaken and baled for free. Wreaths are available for $17-$38 and evergreen roping is $2 per foot, but must be preordered. The Barn Store offers cookies, chocolate-dipped pretzels and other goodies.
Oney's Tree Farm
16608 Route 14, Woodstock, (815) 338-4108 or oneystreefarm.com/
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26, through Sunday, Dec. 5
Trees: Visit the 60-acre farm and pick from its 60,000 trees in nine varieties, including Fraser fir, white pine and Colorado spruce. Cut your own, choose a precut tree or pick up a tree with roots that you can plant. Five- to 9-foot trees are $79, or $10 more per additional foot. Trees under 5 feet are $55.
Also: Tree shaking and netting are free. You can also purchase baked goods, wreaths, centerpieces and garlands.
309 Three Oaks Road, Cary, (847) 639-3248 or pineapplefarm.wordpress.com/
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Nov. 26-28, and Saturdays and Sundays, Dec. 4-5, 11-12 and 18-19
Trees: Cut your own pine for $70 or a fir or spruce for $90. Also available are 7- to 12-foot-tall precut Fraser firs.
Also: Handsaws are available and staff will help load and tie your tree on to your vehicle or provide baling cord if you prefer to do it yourself.