Archive for Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas tree buying habits have changed

December 12, 2007

By now almost everyone has completed their annual battle with the Christmas decorations. All of us have struggled up ladders that were tilting at a precarious angle and snapped Christmas lights in place. We have made every effort not to mark the walls as we have taken down pictures and have replaced them with holiday wreaths. In general, we have won the battle with extension cords and faulty lights and our homes are ready for the holidays.

For a majority of Americans there has been a major change in holiday decorating during the past decade or so. Now, the majority of Americans have artificial trees rather than trekking to the Christmas tree farm to select a live one. I've read a number of reasons for the change including safety, reliability of having a tree to fit the right spot in your home, problems with disposal and others. Yet, to me the reason for the change is that it is easier to snap together the branches of artificial trees rather than hassle with finding the perfect tree.

The use of evergreen trees in Christmas decorating dates back centuries. Probably the popularity of Christmas trees dates back to medieval Germany and was brought to the New World by immigrants.

In past decades, service clubs, churches and other benevolent groups made money selling Christmas trees. I don't know how many hours I've spent shivering while standing on a Christmas tree lot trying to help an organization make money. The club made lots of money but it was a tremendous amount of hard work. There aren't many service clubs now that have enough manpower to conduct a major Christmas tree sale. In those days, the lot was open during the daytime and was manned by retired members. The evening shift labor pool included the majority of the club manpower. Of course, we were open on Saturdays and Sundays.

When we came to Bonner Springs, I was soon involved in tree sales. I remember selling Christmas trees for the Bonner Springs Optimist Club which had best facilities for volunteers. Our tree sale was held at the Greenhouse which was located on Kansas Highway 7. However, by the early 1990s, non-profit tree lots were disappearing.

While much of the demise was due to the public moving from fresh, cut trees to artificial ones, there was another major factor. Service club membership was slipping and it became harder to get the volunteers and, also, the profit margin was going down.

Of course, the Bonner Springs-Edwardsville-Basehor area has always had an abundance of live trees due to the many area Christmas tree farms. We would normally drive to one of the farms and after seemingly endless searching, find a tree that was about what we had in mind. Then you came home, got the tree in its stand, hoping that it wouldn't tip over. In early January, you had to drag the tree out and take it to one of the locations where they could be deposited.

Early Americans simply went to the woods and cut down a tree and brought it home. This was the case in our family and the tree was normally small and spindly. Anyway, I found that the first recorded sale of Christmas trees was in New York City in 1851. An enterprising gentleman named Mark Carr cut down trees and loaded them on a pair of ox carts and hauled them to New York City where he made a tidy profit selling them to city dwellers. While I doubt that he knew it, he had launched a new industry.

The demand for Christmas trees grew in the latter half of the 19th century while the supply got smaller. The first commercial Christmas tree farm was started in Trenton, N.J. in 1901.

I must admit that after years of protesting, I finally gave up and got a nice artificial tree. Instead of standing in the cold, we now try to match the color-coded branches to the tree. And, if all goes well in a short time the tree is up and ready to trim. I suppose someone could ask how much I do when it comes to home decorating. My main job is to carry the boxes up from the basement and try to hang wreaths without falling from the ladder.

Yet when it is all done, is there anyone more relaxing than admiring the tree while listening to Christmas carols? That, alone, makes all of the work worthwhile.


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