It’s the most wonderful time of the year for Christmas tree farmers, especially in states like Oregon, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, where most of the country’s Christmas trees are grown.
But there’s a Christmas controversy needling the industry: what town holds the prestigious title of Christmas Tree Capital of the World?
Just outside of Pittsburgh, Indiana County lays claim to the coniferous crown. The first pines and spruces were planted in the western Pennsylvania county 100 years ago, before Christmas trees were as popular as they are today, according to the Indiana County Christmas Tree Growers’ Association.
“In the 1950s and 60s there were over 200 growers in Indiana county,” said ICCTGA president and tree farmer Gregg Van Horn.
Christmas trees are deeply rooted in Indiana County. There was a long tradition of selecting Queen Evergreen every year: “The beauty of our Christmas trees is only eclipsed by our Queen Evergreen,” one informational guide reads.
To get to Van Horn’s farm, visitors might drive down Tree Trim road and past a weathered, cheery sign that reads: “Welcome to Indiana County, Christmas Tree Capital!”
”[Christmas tree farms] are spread out now, there’s places producing more than we are now, but it all started here,” Van Horn said.
It’s true that Pennsylvania isn’t the top Christmas tree producer these days. According to the USDA’s latest numbers, Pennsylvania is fourth in production after Oregon, North Carolina and Michigan.
But Van Horn said current tree production doesn’t change their claim to Christmas tree fame.
“We’re the only ones that have the signs up that say ‘Welcome to the Christmas Tree Capital of the World,’” said Van Horn.
Not to stir the Christmas eggnog, but the Pennsylvania town isn’t the only one with signs claiming the coveted title. Its challenger? Estacada, Ore.
“When I drove into Estacada 15 years ago, and I saw the sign that said ‘Christmas Tree Capital of the World,’ I thought to myself, ‘Really? That can’t be,’” said Estacada Mayor Sean Drinkwine. “So I drove around Estacada, and sure enough, everywhere I looked there was a Christmas tree.”
And in addition to the sign, Drinkwine said the spirit of Christmas in Estacada is “intense,” a key component for any capital.
“It’s kind of one of those places you feel like you’re in a Christmas village,” he said.
Not so fast, said Gregg Van Horn. He pointed out that his Pennsylvania town is the birthplace of actor Jimmy Stewart and hosts the It’s A Wonderful Life festival every year, which only adds to Indiana's Christmas clout.
“Just come to our light up night and the It’s a Wonderful Life parade in Indiana, and you’ll see the Christmas spirit here,” Van Horn said. “The crowds are pretty excited about it, and it’s a pretty big parade that gets bigger every year.”
In Oregon, they do nearly the same thing, but without the bonus of Jimmy Stewart.
“There’s everything,” Mayor Drinkwine said. “Our school band and choirs come out to play. We have people singing, we have Santa, we have everything. And we bring a 25-foot tree in.”
The town of Indiana puts up a tree too, but it’s 5 feet taller. So, who wins?
Farmer Gregg Van Horn says the title will always be theirs. He says even if Indiana county decides to stop growing Christmas trees one day, they were still first.
Back in Oregon, Estacada Mayor Drinkwine says he would never put the Pennsylvania town down for having a spirited Christmas.
“I wouldn’t take that away from them,” Drinkwine said. “But I can honestly tell you, if you come to Estacada, if you’ve walked our streets and you’ve talked to our people, and you’ve felt the feeling, you will know.”
We may never know where the true capital is and unfortunately Santa was not available for comment. But maybe that’s OK; the more Christmas trees, the merrier.