By GILLIAN FLACCUS
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Ani Sirois, a respiratory nurse, has spent months caring for coronavirus patients at a Portland, hospital, and she’s only getting busier as infections — and hospitalizations — surge before the holidays.
But on a recent sunny day, COVID-19 seemed far away as she, her husband and their 2-year-old daughter roamed a Christmas tree farm in search of the perfect evergreen for a holiday season unlike any other. The family was tree-shopping nearly a week before Thanksgiving and, 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, and whether we can have a gathering with family or not, I know we’ll have our own little tree with the purple lights, and that’ll be something small to look forward to,” she said.
The real Christmas tree industry, which has been battling increased interest in artificial trees, is glad to see that more Americans appear to be flocking to fresh-cut evergreens this season, seeking a bright spot amid the virus’s worsening toll.
It’s early in the season, but both wholesale tree farmers and small cut-your-own lots are reporting strong demand, with many opening well before Thanksgiving. Businesses say they are seeing more people and earlier than ever.
At some pick-your-own-tree farms, for example, customers sneaked in well before Thanksgiving to tag the perfect tree to cut down once the business opened.
As demand surges, big box stores are seeking fresh trees up to a week earlier than last year, and Walmart is offering free home delivery for the first time.
“The season is running approximately six to seven days ahead of what we’ve seen in the past. We’ve never seen the demand like we’ve had this year,” said McKenzie Cook, who ships between 1.8 million and 2 million trees a year combined from McKenzie Farms in Oregon and Happy Holiday Christmas Trees in North Carolina.
A number of reasons are driving the uptick in interest. More Americans are staying home for the holidays amid pandemic restrictions and are realizing that for the first time in years — or maybe ever — they will be home to water a fresh-cut tree. With holiday parades and festivals canceled, stir-crazy families also are looking for a safe way to create special memories.
Plus, fresh-cut Christmas trees are largely displayed outside, where there’s a lower risk of viral spread, said Marsha Gray, executive director of the Christmas Tree Promotion Board.