LONDON — As much of the world huddled at home in lockdowns and the days grew shorter, Christmas-tree growers like Rory Young waited anxiously for the most important month of their calendar, wondering if the years of pruning, shearing and weeding would pay off.
“No one really knew how people would take Christmas,” said Mr. Young, who harvests about 40,000 Christmas trees a year on his farm near the town of Dumfries, Scotland. “We only have four weeks in a year to sell our product.”
There is good news and bad news for tree growers like Mr. Young. Demand appears to be up, but the coronavirus has created unusual challenges.
In Denmark, which exports some 10 million of the 12 million trees it produces every year, the supply of workers from Eastern Europe, which the industry in the country relies on, has dried up. Tree sellers also describe problems caused by international restrictions on travel that affect cross-border trade.
But there’s no shortage of festive spirit. The pandemic seems to have had the opposite effect.
“To be honest with you — it’s gone absolutely nuts,” Mr. Young said of the demand, noting that sales were about 20 percent higher than in previous years. Customers seem to “want something to see the year out on a high,” he added.
Heather Parry, a spokeswoman for the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, said the last weekend in November had been the busiest on record. “The Christmas tree is that beacon of hope,” she said.
Early indications suggested that sales of real trees had grown by 31 percent compared with the same period last year, and many of the buyers were new customers, she added.
Sellers in France like Carlos Mourao, the manager of Aux Fleurs de France in Paris, reported a brisk trade in Christmas trees, with families descending on stores the moment they were allowed to reopen. “I told them that the tree would be dry within three weeks,” Mr. Mourao said. “They said, ‘It doesn’t matter, we’ll buy another one.’”
There was a similar story in Germany. “My first impression is that it’s going really well,” said Thomas Emslander, who runs a Christmas-tree nursery in Bavaria. He noted that he had sold significantly more trees than usual by the end of November.
The industry has lobbied in some countries to allow sellers to continue trading even while other commercial activities are restricted. Still, many wholesalers were initially cautious about putting in orders.
Claus Jerram Christensen, managing director of the Danish Christmas Tree Association, said, “We thought there might be a bigger demand,” given that many more people were expected to stay put for the holidays. Orders were slow and erratic at first, he noted, complicated by the coronavirus restrictions and labor shortages, but the industry was now busy “picking up.” He said he expected business to be slightly higher than average for the season.
Stephan Meijer, a Dutch plant broker, said the blockages to international trade caused by the virus were still causing problems. “The lorries are stopped at the border and the trucks and drivers cannot exit,” he said. “We hope a solution can be found in time.”
Nonetheless, the promise of a strong season is welcome to growers, considering the investment of time and effort that goes into the business. The average six-foot tree takes about 10 years to grow, Ms. Parry of the British growers group noted. “You put all this work in, you weed and you shape it — a lot of hard work that’s done on these trees,” she said.
Nobody, of course, wants a Christmas tree in January. “You are putting all your eggs in one December basket,” Ms. Parry said.
Anne-Sophie Lecoanet was carrying a small tree home one recent morning in Paris. “Since the times are a bit sad, I thought it was a good moment” to get one, she said.
A student who lives alone, she said she had decided to cancel an extended trip to see her family over the holidays because of the virus. The tree would help her in some small way to get through a period of loneliness, she said.
Others, some who were first-time buyers or who had bought a bigger tree than normal, expressed similar sentiments about hoping their purchase would offer some much-needed cheer.
“The smell … it just does bring you in the mood for the holiday,” said Deborah Chow, who said she would have to spend Christmas in London for the first time in years. Rich Pan, her boyfriend, agreed. “Even going out and buying it puts you in a festive mood,” he said.
Antonella Francini contributed reporting from Paris, and Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin.
Source : Nytimes