You Might Have Trouble Finding a Real Christmas Tree This Year

High demand is linked to people craving nature, tradition, and staying home.

taking a Christmas tree home
Father and son drag home a Christmas tree.

Sol Stock / Getty Images

If you're hunting for the perfect Christmas tree this year, you might have a hard time finding it. Demand for real Christmas trees is at an all-time high, with tree yards selling out much earlier in the season than ever before.

As with so many things this year, COVID-19 is partly to blame. More people are staying home for the holidays, making it easier to care for a live tree. After months of lockdown, people are craving signs of life and nature, and a real tree provides that. Linda Pieper, manager of a nursery near Calgary, told CBC, "[A real tree] is like gardening, it just makes you feel good." It could be due to the phenols and terpenes released in a fresh fir tree's aroma, which boosts dopamine levels in the brain and makes us happier. 

Many families are eager to create fun and festive traditions for their kids in order to make this particular holiday season seem less bleak, and it's hard to think of anything more Christmassy than heading to a tree farm to cut your own and haul it home. Many farms offer additional outdoor activities that appeal to families following social distancing protocols, such as campfires and wagon rides and hot apple cider.

It's been predicted that, with demand so high, Christmas trees could be the next item to suffer from pandemic-related shortages. One might argue that it's a good sign we've moved on from essentials like toilet paper and all-purpose flour to decorative elements like Christmas trees, but it's still a frustrating situation for people who'd counted on getting a real tree. 

The Star cites Shirley Brennan, executive director of Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario, who described 2020 as an odd year: "We knew in August we would be out of trees ... (our farmers) would sell all the trees they possibly could this year." She went on to say that all wholesale orders have been filled, and there's simply not enough supply to meet demand. With a product that requires 6-12 years to grow, it's impossible to catch up quickly. 

Treehugger reached out to Middlebrook Farm in Saugeen Shores, Ontario, which sells both pre-cut and cut-your-own Christmas trees. The farm opened a week earlier than usual this year because it received so many messages from customers wanting trees early. On November 23 a spokesperson for the farm said, "We sold a lot this past weekend, so we are already ahead in sales. If it keeps up, we will sell a lot more than normal, I would predict."

As someone who grew up in northern Ontario, Canada, and always cut down a spindly Charlie Brown-ish fir from deep in the forest, I must admit a slight aversion to the pre-wrapped Christmas trees that are already propped up in vacant lots around town. In my opinion it's far too early in the season to buy a real tree; it will lose many of its needles long before Christmas comes and hardly look fresh (though it is recommended to store it outside for a while yet). Plus, a regular-sized Christmas tree occupies too much space in my cozy living room.

I'll be going a different route this year, opting for a small potted tree that can be replanted outdoors come spring. This conveniently bypasses the ethical issue of cutting down a perfectly healthy tree for temporary decoration and the environmental catastrophe that is plastic trees. (More on that here, here, and here.) The only problem is, these are surprisingly hard to find! Nobody seems to sell living trees in my area, so I might have to head out into the bush again – this time carrying a shovel, instead of a saw.

While some are saddened by the thought of any tree being cut down, I think it's good news in general that people are eager to put real trees in their homes this year. There have been enough climate savings made inadvertently throughout the lockdowns of 2020 – think of all the places we haven't gone and things we haven't done – that I don't think it hurts to bring a piece of nature into our homes to gain some peace of mind. If it brings families together, supports local tree farmers, and creates beauty without generating more unnecessary plastic waste, I'm all for it.