Christmas tree farmers provide patrons with a religious encounter

Jason and Tasha Carnes hold up Lena and Jason Carnes Jr. to view statues depticing a part of the Nativity story at Emmanuel Tree Farm in Trafalgar, Ind., Nov. 28, 2020. The Christmas tree farm has several religious activities, including this Nativity Trail, where families can visit eight stations that depict stories from Scripture. (CNS photo/Katie Rutter)

TRAFALGAR, Ind. — Alena Beckwith may be only 7 years old, but she is already helping with the family business and evangelizing others in the process.

"I just like to give people trees so they remember Christmas and Jesus' birthday," said Alena, who attends St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis.

She spent Nov. 28 helping her grandparents, Don and Karen Beckwith, with their Christmas tree business in Trafalgar. The Beckwith family founded Emmanuel Tree Farm in 2007 aiming to bring other families together and place the season's focus on Christ.

"A lot of people forget about the true meaning of Christmas," explained Karen Beckwith, a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis.

"So that was one of our goals, to bring Christ back into Christmas."

The farm, which has four acres of Christmas trees, also offers faith-oriented activities for families.

Alena and her siblings were quick to demonstrate the dress-up Nativity, where young ones don costumes and act out the holy scene. A homemade blue veil and tunic completed Alena's portrayal of Mary, while feathery wings and a halo transformed her sister, Ava Beckwith, into an angel.

Kids also can take home crafts and have their hands painted -- an adaption of the usual face painting because of COVID-19.

Near the back of the property, families walked along Nativity Trail. Eight small wooden stations line a pathway through uncleared woods. Each station contains statues that depict part of the Christmas story, beginning with the Annunciation and ending with the Holy Family's flight to Egypt.

Information pamphlets at the beginning of the trail contain Scripture readings for each station.

"We still really enjoy watching the families go back" on the trail, Don Beckwith told Catholic News Service.

"One member of the family will read the Bible passages that go along with those scenes and it's really heartfelt to watch that happen," he said.

Picking out a live Christmas tree had been a family tradition for the Beckwiths, one they shared with friends of their children and, eventually, their children's spouses.

Planting their own tree farm seemed the natural way to continue sharing that tradition.

On Nov. 28, families zigzagged through the rows of pines, carefully selecting and cutting down the "perfect" tree. Often, each child would take a turn at the saw, or several siblings would use their collective strength to drag the evergreen to the car.

"It's like team-building almost, but for the family, it brings everybody closer," explained Peter Heugel, a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis who was at the farm to select a tree with his family.

For the Beckwiths, too, the business has turned into a team-building opportunity.

The owners' two children, in-laws and five grandchildren all help to plant around 400 new pines each spring.

When the farm opens for the Christmas season, the whole crew turns out: family, friends, neighbors, even students from Roncalli High School, a Catholic school in Indianapolis where one of the Beckwiths work.

"Everybody's included and gets a job, including the little ones," said Karen Beckwith.

The teenagers prepared cut trees for customers: blowing off dry needles, drilling a hole in the stump and netting the branches securely.

Friends managed the children's craft area and snapped photos for visitors. Karen Beckwith and other matrons sold decorations at small gift shop.

"Honestly, at 60-some years old, I never thought I would be working this hard in my retirement years," Karen Beckwith said with a laugh.

"You just feel yourself drawn to the project. It was like we're being guided. We're not choosing this path necessarily all on our own," Don Beckwith added.

For them, though, the journey is more than worth the effort.

"When it's a hot day and I'm working, I picture a day like today when we have families coming out and spending time with their loved ones and sharing the story of the Christ child's birth," summarized Karen Beckwith.

"I just think of the joyfulness that it brings to people."

Joyfulness is something that families need after a trying, pandemic-ridden year. A little fresh, pine-scented air certainly doesn't hurt, either.