Like a Charlie Brown story come to life, the real Christmas tree industry has been battling competition from glitzy, high-tech fake trees for years. But this year, many people plan to buy the real-deal—and most cite the pandemic as the cause.
It’s still early in the season. But so far, both wholesale tree farmers and small cut-your-own lots are reporting strong demand.
Ani Sirois, a nurse, cares for coronavirus patients at a Portland, Oregon, hospital. She’s getting busier as infections surge before the holidays.
But on a recent sunny day, COVID-19 seemed far away as she, her husband, and their two-year-old daughter roamed a Christmas tree farm searching for the perfect pine. For the first time, they were picking their own tree instead of buying a pre-cut one.
“It’s nice to have home be a separate safe space away from the hospital,” she says, “and whether we can have a gathering with family or not, . . . that’ll be something small to look forward to.”
At some pick-your-own-tree farms, customers sneaked in early to tag a tree to cut before businesses even opened. Walmart is offering free home delivery for the first time.
“We’ve never seen the demand like we’ve had this year,” says McKenzie Cook, who ships between 1.8 million and 2 million trees each year combined from McKenzie Farms in Oregon and Happy Holiday Christmas Trees in North Carolina.
What’s driving the uptick? More Americans are staying home for the holidays amid pandemic restrictions—and they’ll be home to water a freshly cut tree. Plus, with holiday parades and festivals canceled, stir-crazy families also are looking for a safe way to create special memories.
Another advantage is that fresh-cut trees are mostly displayed outside, where there’s a lower risk of viral spread, says Marsha Gray, executive director of the Christmas Tree Promotion Board.
The growing interest in real trees comes after the industry has struggled to attract new, younger customers in recent years.
Between 75% and 80% of Americans who have a Christmas tree now have an artificial one. The $1 billion market for fake trees has been growing by about 4% per year—despite the fact that they can be used again and again.
“We want to introduce real Christmas trees to young families and new buyers and create greater demand,” Gray says.
The Christmas Tree Promotion Board even sponsored an instructional video on how to shop for and put up a real tree . . . then keep it alive. It’s for those who say, “‘I’m a little nervous about just taking a tree and dragging it into my house,’” according to Gray. The video has tens of thousands of views.
“Getting a real tree involves the choosing, the hunting for it, the family outing. It really is a memory maker. It’s a day you spend together, and it really becomes much bigger than the tree itself,” she says.
Bigger indeed. The true joy of Christmas isn’t the gifts, gadgets, or even popular traditions, like decorating a tree—genuine or not. The real “reason for the season” is God’s coming to Earth as a human “to save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
(Josh and Jessica Ferrara shop for Christmas trees with their children, Jayce and Jade, at Sunnyview Christmas Tree farm in Salem, Oregon. AP/Paula Bronstein)