How to Cut Your Own Christmas Tree

There's a strange pride that comes with gazing across your living room floor at a Christmas tree that you chose, a tree once hidden in a vast national forest, a tree that enticed you and required your own manual labor to cut down and bring home.

This pride, similar to that of building your own furniture or changing your own car's oil, brings a personal charm to something that could be so easily commercialized. And it's well worth the effort: Cutting your own Christmas tree increases holiday spirit and creates a festive annual tradition for your friends and family. It's also really easy. Follow these simple tips to cut your own Christmas tree and start a fun holiday tradition.

Know the Rules

There are a few rules you need to follow when cutting down your tree. The first and most important is that you must have a Christmas tree permit. Each year, starting mid-November, your local Forest Service office starts selling permits that allow you to cut down a tree in a national forest. The fee will vary at each office, but should only cost around $15; the permit allots you one tree. Go to the US Forest Service website to find an office close to you.

Here are a few other things to know:

  • You're not allowed to select a tree within 50 feet of a stream, lake or wetland.
  • The tree must be less than 15 feet tall.
  • Take the entire tree. Do not "top" the tree, rather cut as close to the ground as possible.
  • After the tree is cut, attach your permit to a low limb.
  • Be conscious of the tree you're taking and the wildlife habitat that surrounds it.

More: Where to Find Unique Wildlife in the U.S.

Bring the Right Tools

There's not much to cutting down a tree, you need a hand saw, some warm clothing—especially a good pair of boots, and an automobile that's reliable enough to get you in and out of the forest.

Once you've selected the tree you like, do a freshness test to verify its worth. Run your thumb and forefinger along a branch; very few needles should come off when doing this. Don't select a tree that's dry or brittle and sheds needles easily.

More: 5 Winter Safety Tips for Heading Outdoors

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