The Great Tree Debate
Glowing with lights and hung with cherished ornaments, Christmas trees from St. Charles Avenue mansions to 9th Ward shotguns are bringing Christmas cheer to New Orleanians everywhere…and the business of Christmas is booming.
Each year, Americans buy almost 30 million real Christmas trees, along with another 10 million to 20 million artificial ones. But this year, according to a survey of retailers done by Evercore ISI, Christmas tree sales are up 29 percent.
Real Christmas trees are an important agricultural industry. These trees make up a $2 billion-per-year business. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, there are close to 15,000 Christmas tree farms located in all 50 states, and these farms employ more than 100,000 people.
The average retail price for a tree is $85. When you purchase a live tree, you’re helping support an American farmer, their employees and the local economy. The farms cut, ship and sell their trees in bulk to lots, retailers, charities and distributors.
“We bought ours from First Unitarian Church,” says New Orleanian Edie Wolfe. “They’re a bit pricier than many options, but our Fraser fir is really full and smells great.”
The family also calls the tree their Hanukkah bush.
“I’m Jewish and Edie’s not,” says her husband, Justin. “Since Jews don’t do Christmas, more secular ones who love the idea of the tree came up with the idea of a Hanukkah bush. It’s a bit of a joke, but also just lovely.”
Some people are going fresh but paring down a bit this year.
“We have two kittens and will not be having a tree this year,” says Jenel Hazlett. “I picked up the branches removed from Christmas trees at Jefferson Feed and wove a wreath and we’ll use the rest to decorate the mantle.”
About one-third of Christmas tree sales are via U-Cut, an option that lets customers cut down their own trees.
Though her family isn’t doing it this year, Leslie Hirstius Dunn usually goes to Yawn Station Tree Farm in Independence, Louisiana.
“They grow Leyland Cypress there — the only trees our allergies can survive,” she says. “Any other tree and I am at the ENT office sick as a dog.”
In my truly unscientific poll, a majority of my Facebook friends got their trees from Harold’s Indoor-Outdoor Plants. The nursery has been selling Christmas trees for 30 years. This year, they bought 325 trees and are already almost sold out.
“We get our tree every year from Harold’s,” says NOLA Family publisher Ann Bower Herren. “They have amazing trees. We name our trees every year and mark them on our Christmas tree watering can.”
If you’re balking at the price of a real Christmas tree, trees are usually reduced the week before Christmas, with the absolute lowest prices offered on Christmas Eve.
“Traditionally we get our tree late,” says Jessica White. “In my youth, it was Christmas Eve because they were practically free and because the cats would have the least amount of time to wreck it. In this time and space, we usually just go to Lowe’s the weekend before. However, I dream of purchasing a magnificent tree from a dreamy place like that garden store on Tchoupitoulas or to buy them and garlands from the Waldorf school fundraiser.”
However, many people find that convenience is more important than that fresh fragrance from a real tree. According to a survey conducted by the American Christmas Tree Association, in 2019, 81 percent of Christmas trees on display in the United States were artificial, while 19 percent were real.
“I’m very happy with my tree,” says writer Trevor Wisdom. “It’s 4.5 feet with sturdy legs. I put it atop a 3-foot box that I cover with a beautiful decorated velvet skirt. After losing most of my ornaments to Katrina flooding, it’s perfect for the special ornaments that survived. And best of all, it folds up back into its original packing box for easy storage to be brought out, dust-free each year.”
Because they can be stronger and carry more weight, Wendy Waren Deshotels finds a faux tree the perfect choice.
“Ours is a narrow 9.5-foot tree with little tiny pinecones and it’s pre-lit,” she says. “Live trees won’t hold my heavy Mr. Bingle ornament collection!”
Some people reluctantly went faux.
“I broke my no plastic rule and bought a 7.5-foot, flocked tree,” says artist Lee Hoffman. “I really wanted one that was flocked. I got it from Michael’s. We decorated it with cardinals and special handmade 2020 masked gnomes.”
To her chagrin, but as a loving concession to her husband who does the decorating, realtor Kelli Karbel Wright bought a fake tree from Lowe’s this year.
“It’s a 9-foot Fraser fir-like, pre-lit, make-my-man-happy tree with no smell,” she says. “If only that was part of the package. I bought some weird tree-scented stick ornaments that you hang in the tree and now the house smells like one of those taxis with the tree-shaped deodorizer hanging from the rearview mirror, but it’s Christmasy.”
Whether you decide on the real thing from a tree farm or an artificial one that will last years, just make this season a special one.
“I’ll be honest with you, we thought there would be a decline this year given the COVID-19 situation and a lot of people being out of work but exactly the opposite happened,” says Sherri Tucker, horticulturist and cashier at Harold’s. “I think people just want a lot of Christmas in their lives right now.”