LONDON – With much of the world huddled at home and the days getting shorter, Christmas tree growers like Rory Young eagerly awaited the most important month of their calendar, wondering if the years of pruning, shearing and weeding would pay off.
“Nobody really knew how people would take Christmas,” said Mr. Young, who harvests around 40,000 Christmas trees annually on his farm near the town of Dumfries, Scotland. “We only have four weeks a year to sell our product.”
There is good news and bad news for arborists like Mr. Young. Demand seems to have increased, but the coronavirus has created unusual challenges.
Denmark, which exports around 10 million of the 12 million trees it produces each year, has dried up the supply of Eastern European labor on which the country’s industry relies. Tree sellers also describe problems caused by international travel restrictions that affect cross-border trade.
But there is no lack of festive spirit. The pandemic appears to have had the opposite effect.
“To be honest – it’s completely insane,” said Young of demand, noting that sales were about 20 percent higher than in previous years. Customers seem to “want something to see the year at a peak,” he added.
Heather Parry, a spokeswoman for the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, said the last weekend in November was the busiest on record. “The Christmas tree is the beacon of hope,” she said.
Early signs suggested that real tree sales were up 31 percent compared to the same period last year and many of the buyers were new customers, she added.
Sellers in France such as Carlos Mourao, the manager of Aux Fleurs de France in Paris, reported a brisk Christmas tree trade, with families in the shops as soon as they were allowed to reopen. “I told them the tree would be dry within three weeks,” said Mr. Mourao. “They said, ‘It doesn’t matter, we’re going to buy another.'”
There was a similar story in Germany. “My first impression is that things are going really well,” said Thomas Emslander, who runs a Christmas tree school in Bavaria. He found that by the end of November he had sold significantly more trees than usual.
The industry has advocated in some countries that sellers can continue trading even when other commercial activities are restricted. However, many wholesalers were initially cautious when placing orders.
Claus Jerram Christensen, General Manager of the Danish Christmas Tree Association, said: “We thought there might be more demand” as many more people were expected to stay on holiday. Orders were slow and erratic at first, made difficult by coronavirus restrictions and labor shortages, but the industry was now busy “catching up”. He said he expected business to be slightly above average for the season.
Stephan Meijer, a Dutch plant broker, said the blockades to international trade caused by the virus were still causing problems. “The trucks are stopped at the border and the trucks and drivers cannot get out,” he said. “We hope that a solution can be found in time.”
Even so, the promise of a strong season for growers is welcome, given the amount of time and effort put into the business. Ms. Parry of the UK Growing Group noted that the average six foot tree takes about 10 years to grow. “You put in all of this work, you weed and you shape it – a lot of hard work that is done on these trees,” she said.
Of course, nobody wants a Christmas tree in January. “You put all your eggs in a December basket,” said Ms. Parry.
Anne-Sophie Lecoanet carried a small tree home one morning in Paris. “Since times are a bit sad, I thought it was a good moment,” she said.
As a student living alone, she said she decided to cancel a long trip to see her family over the holidays because of the virus. The tree would help her through a period of loneliness in a small way, she said.
Others, some first-time buyers or those who bought a larger than normal tree, expressed similar sentiments in hopes that their purchase would bring much-needed joy.
“The smell … it just gets you in the mood for the holiday,” said Deborah Chow, who said she had to be in London for Christmas for the first time in years. Rich Pan, her friend, agreed. “Even if you go out and buy it, it gets you in a festive mood,” he said.
Antonella Francini reported from Paris and Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin.