by Jerome Hughes
TODDLER Luke Smyth was beside himself with excitement as his proud grandparents Maureen and Colin brought him on his first ever trip to buy a Christmas tree.
The family travelled from their Altnagelvin home to ‘McKean’s Christmas Trees’ in Termonbacca, located on the Derry-Donegal border.
“Our wee 22-month-old grandson, Luke, adds to the excitement. When we get the tree home he’ll be amongst it all, trying to get it decorated. Maybe there’ll be a few baubles broken in the process but we love it. Christmas starts now once we bring the tree into the house.”
A retired schoolteacher, Maureen told us how she loves Christmas now more than ever, thanks to Luke.
“It’s just magic. We’ve been coming here to get our tree for about five years. It’s a fabulous setting. The trees are magnificent.
“I love the smell of a real pine tree. Put a bit of cinnamon along with it and it just smells like Christmas,” said Maureen.
After an extensive search within the forest, near the picturesque Donegal village of Killea, the family discovered an ideal tree.
“This tree is really lovely. We’ve got a few artificial ones in other rooms but the ‘real’ tree is the centrepiece. The smells, decorating it, it’s a family affair with everyone together, playing Christmas music.”
Samuel McKean, who runs the business, has been selling Christmas trees for 30 years. The 81-year-old, with no plans of retiring, claims to sell around 200 Christmas trees in the lead up to the big day.
“Years ago the trees were mostly sold through supermarkets, farm shops and filling stations. That’s almost gone now because it’s too much hassle for the shops.
“The people come here and go down through the forest. They pick the tree and we put it in a net for them. Families really enjoy it. It’s like a day out,” explained Samuel.
Establishing a Christmas tree farm is a laborious process, demanding a decade for Samuel to cultivate these festive trees.
With a capacity for up to 4,000 trees per acre, he highlights that 3 to 4 acres offer ample space for a thriving Christmas tree farm.
There are three primary tree species on offer: Fraser fir, Nordmann fir, and Lodgepole pine. Samuel typically prices each tree at £40, approximately €47.
Sap-sucking insects called Aphids can cause serious damage to the trees so Samuel has to spray the forest once a year in order to prevent this.
He says it’s important to have a proper stand for your Christmas tree that has a dish for holding water.
“Most modern homes are actually too warm for Christmas trees. The trees like to be kept cool. Covering the base of the tree in a few inches of water prolongs the tree’s life,” advised Samuel.
Maureen and her husband Colin don’t let their Christmas tree go to waste once the festive period is over.
“When Christmas ends the tree becomes lifeless, the presents are gone and the lights seem to lose their luster. Of course, we have New Year’s Eve celebrations and so the tree is still in place until after that.
“We compost the tree and when the branches have died we chop them up and use it for firewood. It’s always put to good use,” said Maureen.