Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.
— Burton Hillis
 Photo by Julie Jay Photography. Attire by Basin + Range

Photo by Julie Jay Photography. Attire by Basin + Range

This marks my second winter in Jackson, WY, and while I'm still many winters away from being considered a local, I'm determined to live like one. And Jacksonians don't buy Christmas trees, they hike into the forest and chop down their own.

Do you remember the beginning of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation? Chevy Chase drags his unwilling family miles into the snow in search of the perfect Christmas tree. The daughter freezes from the waist down, the son is relentlessly complaining, the tree is about 3 times too large, their hands are covered in sap for days, and last but not least, there's a squirrel who hitched a ride with the tree, startling everyone on Christmas Eve, and results in the living room catching on fire. Well, turns out, art imitates life. That is, should you decide to cut down your own Christmas tree in Jackson, WY. 

Side note: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is the BEST Christmas movie of all time. A classic. Rent it immediately and watch it with your family, preferably with some (spiked) hot chocolate. 

Ok, so I'm exaggerating a tad. We had enough sense to keep the kids at home, there was no squirrel, and my living room is still in tact. But freezing? Yes. Sap for days? Yes. Car getting stuck in the snow. Yes. Laughing so hard, as we awkwardly tried to carry the very heavy tree back to the truck in knee deep snow, that I peed my pants? (Just a little. I've had three kids, it happens.) Yes. Flat tire on the way home, stranding us on a snow covered road in the middle of nowhere? YES. Tree three times too large for our living room? Yes. Almost all of our ornaments broken on the floor because our cat thinks it's a squirrel. Yes. 

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Cutting down a christmas tree in the mountains of Wyoming was an adventure, a very challenging, comical, and priceless adventure, and one I hope to repeat every year. Our life is no movie, but I have to imagine that if someone had been watching my husband and I that day, they would have been laughing. Perhaps so hard they would have peed their pants, too. Just a little. If they've had three kids.

Side note: Should you decide to chop down your own tree, take my advice and bring a dog sled team, at least 10 more strong hands, snacks to keep you happy while your husband changes a flat tire, and an extra pair of underwear. 

Growing up in Southern California, I never experienced a white christmas. When we shopped for a tree, it was on the Home Depot parking lot; the trees were sprayed with fake snow. The weather was typically in the 80's and Santa was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses. While this may sound refreshing to some, like Jacksonians, who have seen more snow than sand, but for me, a winter wonderland during the holiday season is like a fairytale. I have always dreamed of a white Christmas in the mountains. I've dreamed of creating new traditions with my family. I've dreamed of building memories, like cutting down our own tree and decorating it together, while drinking hot chocolate by a crackling fire. Basically, during the holidays, I'd like to live in snow globe. 

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This season, life isn't as picturesque as a snow globe...it's more of a Chevy Chase movie. But I'm ok with that. I'm learning I'd rather have the chaos and laughs along the way, it makes the traditions and memories that much brighter. It wasn't the most graceful of adventures, but it was one for the books. And at the end of the day, we have a beautiful tree, that we chopped down ourselves. We have happy, healthy kids to decorate it. And a fire is crackling, right now, as I'm pouring hot chocolate. That's my kind of fairytale.

Here's my favorite recipe for homemade hot chocolate- enjoy it while decorating your Christmas tree!

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Homemade Hot Chocolate

* Serves 4

  • 4 cups whole milk

  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • pinch of kosher salt

  • 1/4 cup cinnamon (optional)

  1. In a medium saucepan, over medium-low heat, combine the whole milk and chocolate chips, whisking often till the chocolate has melted into the milk. Don't let it boil.

  2. Add the sugar, pinch of salt, and cinnamon. Allow to barely simmer for 2 more minutes, whisking occasionally.

  3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

  4. Pour into mugs immediately and top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Special thanks BASIN + RANGE, exclusive to BackCountry.com, for providing us with warm winter attire and gear. We would have frozen without you. Literally.

  • Featured on Lindsey: The Quincy Hooded Down Bomber Jacket in Navy and Snow Creek Flannel Shirt in Navy Plaid

  • Featured on Jeremiah: Buckskin Stretch Flannel in Red Plaid, Rancher Primaloft Jacket in Navy, Leather Work Gloves, and Stanley Classic Thermos (filled with hot chocolate)

  • Shop the collection at Backcountry.com.

All photography by Julie Hilliard of Julie Jay Photography

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