The sun is setting over Menlo Park, but the Nativity School Christmas Tree Lot on Laurel St. is just coming to life. Aromas of freshly trimmed trees and the sound of children laughing permeate the air as festive lights flicker on above the small forest. Cheerful volunteers chop trunks and tie newly purchased trees to the roofs of station wagons and SUVs. Judging by this lively scene, it’s clear that California holiday season is in full swing as families commence their quest to find the perfect Christmas tree.

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A booth in the lot sells other holiday products to take home with your tree. Photo by James Poe.

Volun-tree-ing for a good cause

With the goal of helping the Nativity School, which her daughter started attending this year, raise funds, Liz Gaitherd decided to volunteer at the school’s Christmas Tree lot. As it’s her first year volunteering at the lot, Gaitherd is learning how to help people find the perfect Christmas tree as she goes along.

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Liz Gaitherd, age 46, discusses her experience volunteering at the tree lot. “It makes you feel like you’re in the North Pole,” Gaitherd says. Photo by James Poe.

“People are asking me questions that I don’t necessarily know the answers to,” Gaitherd says. “People have specifics – I want it tall, I want it skinny, I want it short, I don’t want all the branches. So most people are really happy when they come here because it’s a positive environment and it’s kind of a fun field trip for the family.”

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Freshly chopped Christmas Trees. Photo by James Poe.

Don’t fear the tree

Caroline Braviak, Isabel Maddick and Kaitlyn Merritt are all Stanford sophomores — and they’re on a mission to find a small tree that brings some holiday cheer into their shared dorm room. “We’re trying to picture the tree inside our dorm,” Braviak says. “Also how much we can afford.”

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Stanford sophomores Caroline Braviak, Isabel Maddick and Kaitlyn Merritt pose for a photo in their festive holiday sweaters. Photo by James Poe

Why do you want a real tree as opposed to a fake one?

“Fake tree, fake Christmas,” Braviak says.

“Real trees smell nice like Christmas,” Maddick says.

“I always [had a real tree] at home,” Merritt says.

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Braviak, Maddick and Merritt look on as a volunteer ties their recently purchased tree to Braviak’s car. Photo by James Poe.

A Family Tree

“We’re just letting the kids look and see which one they like,” says Matt Siegel. “We’re not looking for anything in specific”

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Chinping, age 36, Matt, age 36, Nathan, age 5 and Andrew Siegel, age 3, pose for a family photo in front of the trees. Photo by James Poe.

“We like that one though,” his wife Chinping Siegel adds, gesturing to a nearby tree.  Nathan and Andrew, Matt and Chinping’s children, chase each other under the skirt of their chosen tree, their high pitched laughs vibrating through the air. Although nodding and stating how much they love their chosen tree, the two appear more interested in the string tied around its trunk than the prickly, green Christmas tree itself.

“I like this one,” says Andrew. “I like the string and I like to pull it off.”

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Andrew Siegel, age 3, plays with the strings at the base of the tree. Photo by James Poe