Christmas trees

Last year, Americans purchased more than 26 million live Christmas trees, worth about $2 billion, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, based in Colorado. This year, the median price for real trees is expected to be around $81 per tree.

If you are one of those eleventh-hour holiday Christmas tree shoppers, you may be out of luck this year. Fresh balsam firs and other varieties of the traditional Yule symbol are hard to find.

Blame the pandemic on the scarcity, but at the same time, celebrate the fact that more families than ever before are getting together this holiday season. And decorating that tree could be an intensely personal experience for the whole family.

My wife, Barbara, and I actually set up our tree on Thanksgiving weekend. Given our ages, we chose to forgo turkey day with our loved ones, who reside in Manhattan, and tried to fill that emotional hole with something else. We found that, rather than being one of those chores on our holiday “to-do” list, this year we took our time, and yes, savored the tree-decoration experience together. I must confess, it also helped us relieve a bit of those COVID holiday blues.

Most Christmas tree-grower associations are reporting that retailers are doing a brisk business throughout the nation as consumers spend more of their dollars on experiences, rather than gift products.

Last year, Americans purchased more than 26 million live trees, worth about $2 billion, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, based in Colorado. The association represents about 75 percent of the U.S. Christmas tree supply. That number was lower than in 2018, largely due to an increase in demand for artificial trees.

Price may have something to do with that, since live trees seem to get more expensive every year. This year, with all the home improvement household spending, the median price for real trees is expected to be around $81 per tree. That is a 7 percent increase over last year and 23 percent higher than 2018. For many, that is a steep price to pay for picking pine needles out of the rug over the next three months.

Still, I guess for a millennial family who can make a day of it, the price is worth it. This year, many more city and suburban dwellers have piled into their cars, made the trip to their favorite tree farm somewhere out in the “wilderness” and selected the family tree together. I am sure you have seen countless of these holiday trophies, netted and firmly tied to the roof of the car, making their way back home to be plopped into a tree stand in the living or entertainment room.

This year, the National Retail Federation believes the majority of consumers are more interested in holiday decorations and other seasonal items because of the pandemic. Lights for the tree and to decorate the outside of the home are also in demand, as are wreaths and garland.

Pandemic-themed ornaments, such as Santa Claus wearing a face mask or ornaments with inscriptions of “Merry Christmas 2020,” are especially popular.

The decoration demand was so great that retailers such as Walmart, Costco Wholesale and At Home Group, which are known for selling holiday items, were caught off-balance. Many retailers under-ordered due to the shutdown earlier in the year. As a result, many stores have ended up with bare shelves in the holiday decorations and ornaments section this year, since last-minute resupplies are difficult to come by.

This year, thanks to the coronavirus, the holidays will be different. Most of us know that. But, no matter the size of your tree, or how many ornaments are upon it, or how many presents you received, if you have been lucky enough to avoid being infected, count your blessings. That should be more than enough to make this holiday season your best.

Happy holidays, and Merry Christmas.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative of Onota Partners Inc. in the Berkshires. He can be reached at 413-347-2401, or e-mail him at billiams1948@gmail.com.