Danielle Wright heads to the woods to choose a Mount Gabriel Christmas tree and start a family holiday tradition.
A family Christmas is all about traditions - we're all observing them, whether we do it intentionally or not. If you shun decorations and the sparkle of Christmas, that's saying just as much to your kids as if you're purposefully seeking out traditions to add to their memory banks.
And before you know it, those little kids under your feet will grow up and move away. As Ash Commerer of Mount Gabriel Christmas Trees reminds me: "Christmas is a great time for young children."
His own children, aged 21 and 17, are "not so interested in Christmas anymore". He says he misses finding family experiences to entertain them, now they are grown and prefer to be with their friends.
Luckily, in his business, Ash still has hundreds of families to entertain and he seems to delight in providing a backdrop for some of that Christmas magic by creating a family experience - choosing and chopping down a Christmas tree.
My children, Henry (6) and Georgie (3), race around his front yard, filled with Monterey pines: plump and well-shaped, unlike some of the trees you can pick up on the side of the road, which may have been cut weeks before and won't last as long.
Ash gives us a saw and a big stick with markings for the tree height with an indication of costs. One end is painted white. Simply turn the stick upside down with the white showing and he'll be able to spot it and come and give you assistance.
After a few games of hide and seek, Henry finds a tree he likes, because "it's my size". He picks up the yellow saw, so big and sharp-looking in his tiny hands, and sets about chopping it down with all the intensity he usually saves for iPhone app games.
It takes some time, but he does it, and I'm impressed.
"I was nervous, because I didn't know I could do it," he confides. Some sense of pride, as well as a Christmas tree will be coming home with us today.
Next, he drags his kill back to the car where Ash is waiting to bail it. Georgie looks on admiringly as her big brother carries a whole tree through the grass track. Henry sings the lumberjack song. I'm glad we chose a tree not too far from the car.
A long train with colourful carriages shuffles past across the road as Henry helps to pull his tree through a machine covering it in fine wire. Now it fits nicely into our small car.
Ash sees all sorts of people enjoying this experience - families with new babies, couples enjoying their first Christmas together and retired people wanting a fresh tree that looks and smells like a Christmas tree should.
As we leave, Ash tells us about his community in Drury. "It's the kind of place where everyone knows your name," he says fondly of the rural sensibility the people show him here.
It's then he hands us a tree stand to borrow. "Just bring it back after Christmas," he shouts through the crisp country air as we drive off.
You get the impression he would trust anyone he meets, and his tree farm is the perfect setting for soaking up some Christmas spirit, as well as bagging yourself a great tree, and some pride in a job well done.
With December always such a busy month, don't just rush through it ticking off things on your Christmas list eagerly. Slow down and take the time to enjoy the season for what it is. Choosing a tree in the wild makes an exciting adventure from what is usually a yearly chore.
Christmas tree traditions
Our family's favourite Christmas tree tradition is to keep a box of ornaments for each child. Every Christmas, they each can choose one new ornament from the shop and hang it on the tree. By the time they are ready to leave home, they will have a full set for themselves to remember every Christmas we spent together as a family.
Getting there: Mount Gabriel Christmas Trees is located at 201 Sutton Rd, Drury (Monterey pines only), 3 Creamery Rd, Mangere Bridge (Monterey pines, Douglas Fir, Norwegian Spruce), ph (09) 294 6177, as well as 46 Tamahere Drive, Hamilton (Monterey pines), ph (07) 856 8003. Open daily, 9am-7pm. Prices start at $15 and the best time to visit is the first two weeks of December. Recycle your tree after Christmas by taking it back to the farm for mulching.