Tree’s arrival kicks off holidays

It’s beginning to feel a lot like December in Union Square, as the fresh pine smell wafting from the recently arrived Macy’s Christmas Tree cements the onset of the holiday season.

“It’s beautiful,” said Henry Palo, 36, who stopped his morning jog to take a picture of the tree with his camera phone. “I love it. It smells like the wilderness.”

The 83-foot tall white fir tree came from Mount Shasta, where it once stood near the base of the mountain. Transported across the Bay Bridge on Tuesday afternoon while hanging off of a specially made 61-foot flatbed truck, the tree was “staged off” in Union Square for a few hours Tuesday night before it was readied for display.

A crew of six men attached the massive tree to a crane before dawn Wednesday morning, bolting it into its cement base with the help of a one-and-three-quarter-inch spike. By 5:30 a.m., the tree was in place.

“This is really Macy’s gift to San Francisco,” said James Carlton, manager of Carlton Tree Farms in Burney, who also provides trees for Ghirardelli Square, the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove and the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

“This year, it will be a very full tree. It won’t be a Charlie Brown tree,” said Carlton, whose family has provided the Union Square tree since 1990.

After it was bolted into the ground, crews worked for more than an hour to straighten the tree — shifting and tightening the wires that helped hold the tree upright. In order to ensure fullness, holes that were drilled into the tree’s trunk were then “plugged” by extra branches — a process that will continue until Nov. 12.

Passers-by gripping morning coffee gawked at the operation, some stopping to take in the yuletide scenery, others quickly glancing up before moving along. Unfinished and unplugged, the tree looked carrotlike — its pointy top out of proportion with its lush base.

“It seems a little small this year,” Jose Garcia, 28, said of the tree while on his way to work. “But I know that every year it’s beautiful.”

The decorating phase — with lights and ornaments — will begin when the plugging of the branches finishes on Nov. 12. The tree, in full Christmas glory, is set to becompleted for the Nov. 24 lighting ceremony.

The tree’s 20,000 lights are sold for sponsorship each year, with the proceeds benefiting the UCSF Children’s Hospital. The donations, which are tax-deductible, can be made until Dec. 24. Last year, the light sponsorship program raised more than $205,000 for the hospital.

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