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A Noble Quest : Thousands Will Be Out Searching for the Perfect Christmas Conifer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anna Carabini always starts her Christmas season the way her parents taught her: with a fresh-cut Christmas tree. But not just any pine. It must be a noble fir.

“The nobles are symmetrical; they’re wide on the bottom, trim on top and fluffy all over,” Carabini said Monday as she and an office worker traipsed through the piney forest of Santa’s Treeland, where the heady scent of pine clung to the air.

“Plus, they’re the trees that my parents put up when I was young,” said Carabini, 60, of Laguna Beach. “And for me, they represent the best Christmas memories.”

Like Carabini, thousands of others will join the search in the next few weeks for the ideal tannenbaum . Some are picky about the kind of trees they want; others just look for shape and size.

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There are dozens of pines to choose from, not to mention artificial ones, varying in color, size, shape and price. A small tree may cost as little as $5, and a giant 16-footer might cost up to $350.

The prices for real Christmas trees have increased slightly this year, according to the National Christmas Tree Assn. In 1991 and 1992, retail prices ranged from $3 to $5.65 per foot. This year, they range from $3.10 to $5.65, said the group spokeswoman, Joan Geiger.

Based on early sales so far, local tree growers and retailers optimistically predict that more people will buy Christmas trees this year than in 1992, which experienced the first decrease in national sales since 1977, Geiger said. Nationally, 35.1 million real trees were sold in 1992 compared to 35.7 million the year before, she said.

“This year, we’re hoping that people would continue their tradition, if they gave it up last year, of having a real tree.”

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For Carabini, the tradition never stopped. Every year, she picks out two trees the week after Thanksgiving, one for her home and the other for her investment business in Newport Beach.

The one for her home will be left green and decorated with miniature toys, stuffed bears and white lights. Old-fashioned dolls and white lights will adorn the office tree, which will be sprayed with a fire retardant and flocked with artificial snow.

But first, the choosing of the perfect Christmas tree.

Carabini and employee Paul Nicholas, 46, took their time touring the rows of trees. If Carabini crooked her head, the tree was too slanted. If needles rained from the branches when Nicholas shook them, the tree was too dry.

“Perfect,” Carabini crooned when she found the two wide-branched, blue-hued 7-foot nobles that were neither crooked nor brittle. “Now, I’m going to put myself in the Christmas spirit, and this will be the day to start by putting up both trees.”

At Santa’s Treeland and many of the tree lots in Orange County, most of the trees are from out of state. For those who prefer county-grown trees, there are a dozen Christmas tree farms to choose from. Called choose-and-cut trees, they have become more popular over the years, farmers say, because buyers know the trees will be as fresh as possible.

Buyers can reserve their trees beforehand or choose them on the spot.

“A lot of people still are not aware that there are Christmas tree farms in Orange County,” said Charles Peltzer, owner of seven tree farms in the area.

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Kelly Smith of Irvine has been going to tree farms for three years now and said she still can’t get over the novelty.

“I had an artificial tree for years, but it’s just not the same,” Smith, 35, said as she browsed around Peltzer Pines farm in Irvine. “I especially love the idea of roaming on a Christmas tree farm. Sooner or later, I’m going to find just the one that has my name on it. I picked it and had it cut. Great idea, huh?”


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