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The centerpiece of many homes during the holiday season is the Christmas tree. And from home to home, no two are the same. The type of tree, the color of lights, the tinsel, the ornaments all differ a bit from family to family. It’s a symbol of the season that is uniquely yours.

However, there are two types of Christmas tree people in the world — those who pull plastic pieces out of a box for assembly and those who go for the real thing.

When it comes to the real thing, there are again two types of people — the ones who pick out a pre-cut tree from a local lot and the ones who trek out to a faraway farm to scour the rows for that perfectly shaped fir or spruce tree on a Clark Griswold-like quest with a manual saw in hand.

Guse Christmas Tree Farm in Wanatah has been welcoming those in the latter category since the early 1970s. They get a lot of repeat customers who love the tradition of loading up the family and making a day out of cutting down their own family Christmas tree. This year the farm's owners have seen many new customers because of the closure of two local Christmas tree farms — Luers in Crown Point and Kingma in DeMotte.

Carrie Cusick's grandfather and father, Cliff Guse, started the business.

“My grandpa passed it on to my dad and now my dad is passing it on to my sister and I, so we are the third generation,” Cusick said. Cliff Guse is still active in the business, and Cusik’s 7-year-old daughter and her sister Jodie Funkhouser’s 6-year-old daughter are starting to learn their way around the shop.

“We plan to keep it going,” she said. “We’re here for the long haul and we all live on the farm now.”

With the next generation comes new ideas, and the two sisters will begin next year offering weddings and events on the farm.

“We’re excited to add that to our Christmas experience,” Cusick said.

Lay of the land

If you’re looking for a place to cut down a tree this year, Guse offers 120 acres of Fraser fir, Douglas fir and blue spruce trees for $8 per foot.

“For those who don’t know what to expect, we tell them you bring the money and we’ll take care of the rest,” Cusick said.

Once you pick out your tree, they’ll shake out the dead needles, bail the tree with the bailer and help put it on top of your vehicle. They’ll also supply the saw, and if you’re unable to do the cutting yourself, they have staff to assist. Cars can drive out onto the farm if you want to look beyond what’s close to the front.

“We give you a handsaw and brochure and point you in the right direction,” Cusick said.

Free coffee and cocoa is offered; the cocoa made from a recipe from Cusick’s grandmother. There's also a shop with ornaments, decorations and gift items.

If you visit this weekend, the snack shop is open, offering hot dogs, popcorn, nachos and apple doughnut holes, Santa stops by and Belgian horses take visitors for a leisurely ride through the fields from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There is a decorator there daily to customize wreaths, centerpieces and grave pieces.

Cusick said she is happy to be part of the holiday tradition for so many families.

“We have people who pride themselves on saying, ‘We’ve been coming for 20 years’ or that they are now bringing their grandkids here,” she said. “I think people like the family tradition and the nature of it. They like coming to our family farm to get out in the country and lose the commercialization of it and have good, quality family time together.”

The farm is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until Dec. 22.

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