Thanksgiving is over, and for millions of Americans that means one thing: Time to get a Christmas tree.
Up to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold each year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Based on consumer surveys, this industry group estimates that 27.4 million trees were sold in 2018, more than the number of artificial trees, says Tim O'Connor, executive director of the association.
As you look for a tree that fits your budget, here's what to expect this year.
As a result of droughts and wildfires, along with farm closures, you can expect to pay a bit more for a Christmas tree this year. The average price of a real tree this year is $76, according to data from the tree association.
The price increase will boil down to just a few bucks, but it could be the most expensive season ever for real trees, says Sara Vera, a data analyst at Square. Based on an analysis of sales from thousands of Christmas tree farmers and sellers across the country, the payment processor found that tree prices vary based on the size of tree you buy, the variety, and when you shop.
Last year, prices fell steadily after Cyber Monday, which is December 2 this year. This year, Square has a calculator to estimate the best day to buy your tree, based on where you live, how much money you want to spend, and how long you'd like your tree to last. For example, if you live in the Midwest and want a tree that lasts more than three weeks, Square's calculator estimates that December 4 will be the best day to buy. A tree cost about $64 that day last year.
Video by Ian Wolsten
In the nearly 30 years that the Bell family has been in the Christmas tree business, they've seen shifting preferences among their customers.
"There's been a trend towards more fragrant trees, softer needles," says Brian Bell, one of the owners of the Accord, New York-based farm. And that means you can expect to see more fir trees than spruce trees when you're shopping.
While tree variety is a personal choice, preferences also vary based on location, according to Doug Hundley, a spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association. Firs are most popular in the Southeast, Northeast, and Western parts of the U.S., while spruce trees are preferred in the Central states and Great Lakes region, and Southerners opt for cedars and pine trees, he says.
"Most folks will already have their favorite or traditional type of real Christmas tree," Hundley says. "I go by the rule 'Don't mess with that.' The only tradition I'll mess with is to encourage artificial tree people to try real trees again."
If you're headed to a Christmas tree farm, you'll find more to do than sawing down a tree, or buying a pre-cut one. With an increase in millennial families, Lazy Acres Farm in Chunky, Mississippi, has added to the holiday festivities available for those looking for a traditional experiences, according to owner Michael May.
"We bring a light show, an ornament-making class, cocoas and cider, photo shoots for local photographers," May says. "People drive from all over the state to experience the beginning of the season, not just the tree."
Similarly, Bell's Christmas Tree Farm has become a backdrop for many wedding proposals and family photos. There is a food truck on weekends, and many families hang out at the farm for hours, hosting little tailgate parties in the parking lot. Santa also visits the farm each year.
"A lot of people are getting more into family time again," says Lori Bell, who helps run the farm with her husband, Brian. "It's definitely about the family experience."
Because Thanksgiving was late this year, that makes for the shortest possible period for the tree buying season. That means you can expect more crowds since there are only four weeks to shop instead of five, Vera says.
"The only thing to be looking out for is time," Hundley says, especially if you're in the market for a very specific tree. While prices tend to drop as Christmas approaches, experts say it's better not to wait too late.
But the market varies: Bell's tree farm doesn't anticipate running out of trees. "Some people think they have to be first to get the best tree," Brian says. "We have so many trees that they could come on December 23 and find plenty of beautiful trees."
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