AMERY — Jenna Hendrickson said she never suspected that the Christmas tree her family “harvested” each year off their land hadn’t actually grown there.

For years, her older siblings had played along with her parents’ charade, pretending that the Balsam fir her dad, Wes, chopped down was indeed from their land. Last year, Jenna’s dad and her mom, Tracy, finally revealed the truth to their youngest child — that they had always bought the Balsam fir from a local Christmas tree farm and planted it for their children to find.

“I was in shock,” the 15-year-old Amery High School sophomore said. “The rest of the night, I was thinking about all the past trees.”

Jenna’s story is the winner in the 2018 Christmas Memories Contest sponsored by The Country Today. About 35 readers submitted entries in this year’s contest, which was judged by The Country Today editorial staff.

Jenna’s story is featured on Page 1A of this edition. Second- and third-place entries can be found on Page 1B. Honorable mention selections will be printed in the Dec. 26 edition.

Second place in the contest went to Jarrod Reeson of Barneveld, whose story was titled “Swisher Sweets and sleigh rides.” Reeson wrote about holiday memories of his late grandfather, who was known for his boisterous laughter, Swisher Sweets and horse-drawn sleigh rides given to grandchildren.

Third place went to Ruth Wood of River Falls, for her writing, “One Tuff Christmas.” Wood describes the difficulty her single mother had getting into the holiday spirit during a tough financial time until her employer came through with a special Christmas “bonus” of Tuffie pot scrubbers that the family used to decorate their tree.

Jenna said she entered her story in The Country Today contest after hearing about it from her high school English teacher. Students were participating in a writers’ workshop and had to submit two pieces to be published. Jenna’s essay on the Christmas tree hoax was a natural fit with the newspaper’s Christmas Memories Contest.

She said she often thought it peculiar how the family always seemed to find the perfect tree growing in strange places where no tree had been growing the previous year, such as atop a large sandhill, in a hole or next to other trees that were dead. The tradition of buying a tree from a local tree farm and propping it up on their property began when Jenna’s brothers, Josh and Jake, now in their mid-20s, were toddlers.

“They both were in on it, so it had to be true,” she said of her parents. “I look back on it and I feel so stupid.”

Jenna said her older sister, Jessica, figured it out on her own, but “for me, they just had to give it away.”

This year’s Hendrickson family Christmas tree came from the same place it’s always come from — Mickelson’s Tree Farm near Deer Park — but for once, Jenna’s parents skipped the extra step of setting it up on their land for Jenna to stumble upon.

The top three winners in the Christmas Memories Contest will receive $75, $50 and $25 cash prizes, respectively. Honorable mentions were awarded to Jim Zitzelberger of Oshkosh for “Vietnam Christmas,” Charlotte Heikkinen of Clinton for “Where have my fish balls gone?” and Karen Hicks of Henderson, Nev., for “My Best Christmas Memory.”

Contest rules require that all entries be true stories. Readers are encouraged to continue to enter the Christmas Memories Contest in future years as well as submit stories for the weekly Yarns of Yesteryear feature on the front of the newspaper’s Section B.