When selecting the Great Hall tree, only the perfect tree will do. Just ask Forrest.
The centerpiece of The Omni Homestead Resort’s holiday season is the Great Hall tree, which is showcased in the foyer from the week of Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. And behind the scenes, a lot goes into making this century-old tradition the event it’s become. And the person tasked with this responsibility is Head of Ground Maintenance Forrest Lee. It is he, after all, who must find, procure and transport the tree to the resort, and artfully put it in its place for the lighting ceremony.
As Forrest tells it, for years the Great Hall trees were selected, then cut right on the grounds surrounding the resort. But about 20 years ago, they started going off-property in search of the holiday season’s star attraction.
What in particular does Forrest look for in a tree? He favors the Fraser fir because they’re better suited for the indoors, where they retain their beauty longer than other species. And that’s important, considering the Great Hall tree will have to last through the new year.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the search begins.
Every spring, Forrest works with the folks at Henderson Farms in Newland, North Carolina, who scour Avery County on behalf of The Omni Homestead Resort in search of three or four trees they think will please Forrest’s discerning eye. For starters, Henderson knows the tree must be 23 feet tall, around 16-18 feet wide, ideally, and look symmetrical from every vantage point. In other words, it has to have a classic Christmas-tree shape.
Sometime around July, Forrest will drive down to assess the candidates. As everyone knows, all Christmas trees have a good side, and these behemoths are no different. Forrest tags the tree’s most beautiful side for future reference. This is the side that will face the hallway, and knowing in advance how to position the tree will save him the trouble of having to make that decision later, in the midst of the tree being brought into the Great Hall.
In October, Forrest will make another trip to visit the tree, this time to make sure it’s made it through the hottest part of summer. If the tree still meets his standards, he’ll give Henderson Farms the go-ahead. Of course, he always has a second choice of tree, just in case, and that tree will likely become the primary tree the following year. Having a tree preselected that far in advance allows Forrest to leave the farmer with instructions on how he wants the tree maintained over the coming year, so it’ll be in prime shape when the time comes for harvesting.
At long last, The Omni Homestead Resort finally gets its tree.
The tree is delivered to The Omni Homestead Resort on Thursday, the week before Thanksgiving. On the day before delivery, a crane is moved into position over the tree to support it, ensuring it will never touch the ground when they make the cut. This is a big reason why Forrest prefers Henderson Farms, unlike other tree farms that would use tractors to drag the trees along the ground, risking damage to the branches in the process. The crane slowly carries the tree from its place on the mountainside and gently lays it on the bed of a tractor trailer. Then the tree is taken on the 250-mile, six-hour trip to The Omni Homestead Resort.
A very big tree, a very small door and the miracle of it all coming together.
Considering the tree’s enormous size, one question invariably arises each year: Will the colossal tree fit through the four-foot-wide door? On the Monday before Thanksgiving, the tree is moved into position outside the door to the Great Hall. A rope is fastened to the trunk, and the struggle between man and tree ensues. There’s always a valiant contest, but in the end, the team of groundskeepers always win out in their tug-of-war battle against the tenacious tree, aided in no small part by the loud chorus of cheers and shouts from the crowd gathered for the annual spectacle.
Once inside, they stand the tree up using two ropes and 12 men upstairs and a push pole from below, all orchestrated by Forrest who directs the effort, making sure both sides are pulling evenly. Using 2x4s, a four-legged tree stand is fashioned at the base and, with the help of a rope tied to the upstairs banister, the tree is secure, steady and ready for decoration.
The tree is given a day to acclimate to the warmer indoor temperature before an army of associates decorate it with approximately 2,000 ornaments and 1,250 LED lights, a process that can take as long as seven hours.
With the push of a button, the holidays get underway.
On Wednesday afternoon, crowds once again gather and amass inside the Great Hall for the lighting ceremony. All eyes focus eagerly on the platform where a special guest stands, hand poised over a large red button. The special guest might be a longtime guest or a long-serving resort associate, but when this honoree pushes the button, the lights blink to life, and the crowd breaks into “O Christmas Tree,” officially kicking off the holidays. It’s in this magical setting that Santa makes his grand entrance before taking a seat where he will pose with children of all ages.
There’s nothing like that “home for the holidays” feeling.
It is at this precise moment that it becomes abundantly clear why these families – why any family – would go to The Omni Homestead Resort for the holidays, as families have done for generations. Some like that it’s nostalgic and traditional, while others like the unrushed, old-fashioned experience. Whatever the reason, if you’re like the many guests who return each year, you’ll ultimately feel as though you’ve come home for the holidays at The Omni Homestead Resort.