Boughs of green: Parish Christmas tree lot keeps nostalgia, family tradition alive

Paul Angst, who works maintenance at St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Clair Shores, runs a makeshift Christmas tree lot at the parish Dec. 13. Angst said he and his wife, Lauren, and their three children, Rainy (second grade), Ashton (pre-kindergarten) and Ruby, love making memories each year by picking out a real tree as a family. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Besides a chance for family bonding, picking out a real tree helps environment, operator says

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Paul Angst does it for the smells.

Well, that and the look on kids’ faces when their family is picking out the perfect Christmas tree.

For four years, Angst has been the operator of the Christmas tree lot at St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Clair Shores. The lot had 375 trees on the day after Thanksgiving, selling for $75, with part of the proceeds going to the parish’s general fund.

With a background working in a tree farm during his time at Central Michigan University, Angst, who works maintenance at St. Joan of Arc, has become a sort of “Christmas tree purist.”

“It’s actually more eco-friendly than having fake Christmas trees,” Angsts told Detroit Catholic as shoppers were scouring the last bits of this year’s inventory Dec. 13. The big selling day is the day after Thanksgiving, he said. “There is more of a connection with nature when you buy a real tree, and God wants us closer to nature.”

Ashton Angst plays among the Christmas trees at St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Clair Shores on Dec. 13.

Angst owns land in Applegate, a small town in Michigan's Thumb region, but the trees he’s growing there aren’t ready for sale, so this year’s crop comes from Wahmhoff Farms in Gobles, Mich., a small town west of Kalamazoo.

After ordering the trees in May, the stock arrive at the parish, and it takes Angst and a small team a couple of hours to set up the lot on the corner of St. Joan Street and Greater Mack.

“People basically are coming up and looking for what will fit in their home,” Angst said. “It brings the parents back to when they were kids, picking up their own trees; there is a nostalgia factor in play.”

Angst said the parish itself used to sell Christmas trees, but the tradition has since fallen away — Christmas tree lots are now a dime a dozen these days, he said. But Angst said people this year have been glad to walk up to the lot, many of whom live in the neighborhoods surrounding St. Joan of Arc.

A customer checks out Angst's collection of Fraser firs for sale Dec. 13 at St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Clair Shores.
In addition to trees, Angst sells makeshift “reindeer” made of birch and jack pine.

In addition to the Fraser fir trees, Angst sells small wooden “reindeer” made of birch and jack pine, two for $50. The “reindeer” are a popular pick for kids and for decorating the front porch.

“Really what I like the best is seeing my kids play through the trees, playing tag and hide and go seek with other kids; it’s the best,” Angst said.

As of Dec. 16, the St. Joan of Arc lot has only seven Christmas trees remaining, but the entire Angst family hopes more people come back next year to keep the tradition of picking out a real tree, recapturing a sense of holiday nostalgia.

“For us, it’s always the smell of the tree,” said Lauren Angst, Paul’s wife, as she watched their three kids run through the branches of the remaining trees in the lot. “Before we cut ours down, we have a family tradition of picking out the tree. The key is for people to water it every other day, keep it for no more than a month, and your home will smell wonderful.”