NC Artisans Craft Year-Round Holiday Spirit
The Story of the Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree
Once upon a time, there was a children’s Christmas story that breathed opportunity and hope into a little mountain community…
Spruce Pine is a small town in the northwestern mountains of North Carolina that was hit hard in the early 2000s by the loss of more than 2,500 local textile and manufacturing jobs. By 2003, it seemed nearly everyone in Mitchell County was out of work, and the holiday season offered little reason to celebrate.
The Spruce Pine Christmas parade theme that year was based on the children’s book The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, and the grand marshal was its author and Spruce Pine native Gloria Houston. During the festivities, Houston suggested Mitchell County and Spruce Pine use her book to become “The Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Houston donated the book’s marketing rights to Spruce Pine and gave community leaders the theme they needed to jumpstart the region’s economic engine.
An Appalachian Tale
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree is an award-winning seasonal classic about the courage and power of family. Set in 1918, the book tells the story of Ruthie, an impoverished Appalachian girl whose family is charged with selecting the church Christmas tree. Ruthie and her father find and mark the perfect Christmas tree before he leaves home to fight in World War I.
When Christmas Eve arrives, the war is over but Ruthie’s father has yet to return. Ruthie is supposed to play the Christmas angel in the church play, but her family can’t afford to buy material for her dress. Despite all this, Ruthie’s hope and optimism stay strong as she and her mother set out in the snow to find and cut the Christmas tree. Later, Ruthie’s mother uses her own wedding gown to make Ruthie’s pageant costume.
History of Craftsmanship and a White House Welcome
Mitchell County already was known for its long and colorful craft-making tradition. The people of Spruce Pine tapped the talents of residents whose hobbies included weaving, woodworking, glassblowing and pottery to create handmade merchandise inspired by the book.
Many local artisans questioned whether visitors would want to purchase their work, but their skepticism didn’t last for long. The Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree store opened in November 2005 with products from 15 craft makers. The line of shoppers stretched down the street and many artisans sold out of their products the first night.
As a result of its initial success, the store quickly signed more artists, which, in turn, led to a more diverse product line. In 2006, First Lady Laura Bush heard about the project and ordered 135 glass ornaments and 115 handmade Carolina snowflakes to help decorate two White House Christmas trees.
An article in USA Today and a segment on HGTV soon followed, and suddenly the store found itself overwhelmed with orders.
“It was a shipping zoo in here,” recalls Patti Jensen of the Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce. “There were boxes and packing peanuts everywhere. It was amazing.”
Hope for the Future
Today, The Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree store boasts products from dozens of local artisans, ranging from beautifully hand-painted plates to glass-blown snowmen made by teenage artisan Duncan Helander. The year-round store also features non-seasonal handmade goods, local foods, music and books. Products also are sold online, as well as at North Carolina retailers such as A Southern Season and Mast General Store. Proceeds from the project not only benefit local artisans, but also fund scholarships for Mitchell County high school students.
The Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree project created an identity for Spruce Pine and established a place-based economy that can never be outsourced.
“It gave us something positive going on at a time when there weren’t a lot of positive things here,” says Jensen. “Now, it’s a huge source of pride for the community. People have turned their hobbies, their passions, their crafts into income. This little book has given us a reason to be hopeful and optimistic again.”
Just like little Ruthie.
The Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree Store is located at 262 Oak St. in downtown Spruce Pine. Shoppers can order products online or by phone at (866) 485-8733.
added: November 15, 2009
updated: December 1, 2011
Ideas & What To Do
Many of North Carolina’s seasonal events date back decades and…
Known as one of the Southeast's most beloved and storied holiday travel…
The spirit of the holidays comes alive on stages across North Carolina…
Forget “Hansel and Gretel.” For sheer enchantment, North…
This holiday, experience the magic of seasonal light displays in dozens…
The holiday season brings families from all over the Southeast to the…
We feel your pain. Winter is here and you’ve got loved ones…
Once upon a time, there was a children’s Christmas story that…