GLANDORF — There are few things that can inspire seasonal awe like a live Christmas tree. Cranberry Hollow in Glandorf offers more than the tree for over two decades for all of Putnam County.

In the words of John Lennon, from his solo work, Happy Xmas (War is Over):

And so this is Christmas

I hope you have fun

The near and the dear one

The old and the young…

Encapsulating that vision is the atmosphere Don and Susan Duling have created at their four acre Christmas tree farm.

After purchasing a portion of the family farm and building their home in 1973, Don had a vision for the old and desolated hog barn across the field, paid for it to be moved near his home. With the help of a pressure washer, a vision, and skill in woodwork and artistry, Don and Susan created the timeworn hog barn into the Christmas cottage that stands now.

However that vision did not come until the later when he got hooked on the concept after bringing their own children to get a Christmas tree at a tree farm and felt the excitement.

“You got this idyllic thing, you’re taking the kids out there and it’s fun, as I recall they both had the flu and never got out of the car, but anyhow we were hooked on the concept,” Don recalled.

After joining the Ohio Christmas Tree Association and attending grower seminars for new people, by 1990 over an acre of trees were planted and six years later in 1996 harvested the first ones on a small scale.

Don’s acquired his knowledge of, and interest in, trees during his time at seminary in 1964 transplanting trees: first the popular variety of Scotch pine, then on to other evergreen varieties, varieties such as Canaan Fir, Concolor Fir, Blue Spruce, and Norway.

“It (the Canaan fir) has all the characteristics of a Fraser fir,” Don said. “It looks a lot like it, but it will tolerate a little wet dirt and hot summers more than the others. If it wouldn’t be for Canaan fir, I guarantee I wouldn’t be growing trees.

“I have to shear these every year. You have to cut it off at a foot because if you don’t the tree will be real thin and no branches down below. So you’ve got to make it a pyramid shape. You have to do that in the spring after the new growth comes on.”

Since retiring from General Motors, Don has been keeping very busy in the years one usually relaxes more. Working throughout the year, planting the trees around Good Friday, the tree farm has grown close to 3.5 acres. The trees only grow a foot a year, so an eight foot tree would be subsequently eight years old. Don plants in between each fully grown tree a smaller one to offset the yearly chopping and help in rotation.

The tree farm is just the tip of the North pole, as it offers much more for any guests that come in.

“I’m in the entertainment business. The tree – that’s why they came here, but nowadays that is not the only reason people are lining up,” Don said. “The first year when we cut trees I carried them out by hand, of course I was a lot younger then, and the back end of the field there and you dragged it all the way up to somebodies car, whew, this isn’t going to work. So I had a little trailer behind my lawn mower.”

Their 4-wheeler now converted into the Polar Express, and, after their tree is cut down, Santa’s reindeer pulls families around the tree farm and drops them off at the Christmas cottage for hot cocoa with marshmallows and fresh popcorn.

Very much like the big guy in red from up North, Don has crafted most of everything — along with the artistic talent of his wife Susan — you see on this magical Christmas tree farm. From the United Kingdom-inspired red telephone booth inside, to the large glass window panes, and all the décor and niceties representing the essence of a place Santa would relax with a hot cup of cocoa and popcorn.

“There are people who ask me, ‘are you the real Santa?’” Don said with a jolly laugh.

Don has been known to dress up as Santa and stand on the top of his barn tower and wave to neighbors driving by after afternoon mass.

Instead of elves, Don and Susan have their children and grandchildren helping cut trees, give rides, shake the loose needles off of trees, and serve popcorn and hot cocoa.

“The grandkids working here, I can see it really, really does them good,” Don said. “It’s tough to get them kids to talk to customers.”

Don shared that the most magical part of the season for them is being able to see the next generation of children come and recreate the memories he recalls seeing them do with their parents. “There is a time slot we don’t see them, and then all of a sudden they come back again with their kids.”

Each year the Dulings still cut down a nice tree from their farm every holiday for their own, this despite Susan’s request for a Charlie Brown tree.

“Every time we decorate it, Susan says, ‘I told you to get a bad one! We could have sold that!’” Don said, grinning. “They look like a million dollars, even the Charlie Browns when you decorate them. Matter of fact I like them better I don’t like the big full trees, I like the branches here and there.”

Once Christmas season has passed, the Dulings barn transforms into the secret theme of Beatlemania. Patrons sitting upon the “Duling Pianos” bench may not notice right away the records lining the walls and the large bar with the word from the top Beatles song “Yesterday” painted across it amongst all their favorite photos beneath the clear glass.

Paul McCartney stands tall in the UK red telephone box in place of the train conductor from the Polar Express.

Once deer were kept on the property next to the Christmas barn for guests to visit, but that proved problematic.

“We do get some deer damage every year,” Don said. “They especially like the white pines to scrape their horns on, but they pretty much stick to the same one or two trees so it’s not that bad.

Through all the hard work it takes to pull off such a season, Don’s sense of humor doesn’t fall short. Take, for instance, the tree shaking process when he tells guests that a critter may jump out at people.

“I got all kinds of hand puppets,” he said. “I got one that’s a squirrel. So we make the kids hold the tree and we sneak the old squirrel up there and we just got through telling them be careful because something could jump out at you, then AGH!”

Cranberry Hollow has over 25 years of growing trees, magic, and laughter for all of Putnam County.

You can visit the enchanting Christmas tree farm again, next year, to tag your tree beginning Nov. 1 at 135 German Street.

A very merry Christmas

And a happy New Year

Let’s hope it’s a good one

Without any fear

- John Lennon