“Now,” grinned the Grinch, with an evil smile. “I will stuff up the tree.”
That is, until he heard the coo of sweet little Cindy-Lou Who.
“Santy Claus, why?” she asked. “Why are you taking our Christmas tree? Why?”
The narrator, the immortal Boris Karloff, conveyed the Grinch’s devious response:
But, you know, that old Grinch was so smart and so slick, he thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick.
“Why, my sweet little tot,” the fake Santy Claus lied. “There’s a light on this tree that won’t light on one side. So, I’m taking it home to my workshop, my dear. I’ll fix it up there, then I’ll bring it back here.”
And his fib fooled the child. Then he patted her head. And he got her a drink, and he sent her to bed.
And when Cindy-Lou Who was in bed with her cup, he crupt to the chimney and stuffed the tree up.
The serpentine figure then slithered up the chimney. The old liar even snagged the log for their fire. The Who Christmas tree was gone.
The Grinch would be writhing in delight this Christmas 2021. There has been a dramatic shortage of Christmas trees this year. You may have seen it and been a victim. I spy it every day when I drive past my local lot where we’ve been getting a tree for over 20 years. This past Monday, there were a mere two trees left. It was shocking to see. As I write, two days before Christmas, there are only six, all of them thin and small. Not much lusher than a Charlie Brown tree.
It’s so noticeable that even abroad they’re taking note.
“Is there a Christmas tree shortage in America?” asks the British-based magazine the Economist. It answers its own question:
Rob Dillon has had to turn some customers away. He has sold Christmas trees in Atlanta, Georgia, since 1993, but this year certain types — particularly eight-to-ten-footers — are in short supply. “We don’t have what they want,” Mr Dillon laments. Around 100m households in America will decorate their perfect Fraser Fir or Scotch Pine (be it real, like those sold by Mr Dillon, or plastic) this year. Many people are worried by headlines warning of a shortage of trees. Are there enough to go around?
One cause for concern is the supply-chain crunch, induced by the pandemic, that has made lots of products harder to come by. Increased shipping costs and backlogs at ports pose a much bigger threat to the supply of artificial trees than live ones.
As the report notes, as early as September, the American Christmas Tree Association (yes, there’s truly a trade organization for everything), warned that there may be fewer Christmas fir trees available this season. That’s precisely the kind that we get, and this year there were a lot less firs than usual, and what was there wasn’t high quality. Not to be a picky, well, tree snob, but they were clearly drier and patchier than usual.
More than that, the sticker price was alarming. I actually left the lot with the kids because we couldn’t find what seemed like a suitable tree at a reasonable price, and also because it was ghastly cold, the wind beating us down as we continued our futile search. When we arrived home empty-handed, with the living room cleared and ready for the big tree that I always ceremoniously drag in, my wife and daughter asked, “Where’s the tree?”
When I explained my predicament, they ordered me back out to fetch a tree, regardless of the price, which I proceeded to do.
I won’t share here what I paid, because it’s kind of embarrassing, but it was close to double what I normally dish out, and well north of a hundred bucks. Frankly, I didn’t mind the price because it does support the good guys who run this local family business. I want to help them. Indeed, I actually have white pine trees all over my property, plus hemlocks — of all sizes. We could cut down a tree from our property and save the money. (Maybe we’ll need to eat the white pines if Biden-geddon worsens.) As part of our annual ritual, we always axe a smaller tree from our property and place it in the entry way. The fir tree that we purchase down the road always goes in the living room — a “great room” with a high ceiling.
For the record, the high ceiling allows me to reach my heights of obnoxiousness when purchasing a tree. Every year before leaving the house for the lot down the street, my wife orders sternly, “Don’t buy the tallest tree again!” I smile and walk away. When I show up at the lot with the kids, Doug the tree guy asks, “Well, how can I help you?” I look at the kids, smile, and belt out, “Give us your tallest tree!” The kids all cheer.
That was the plan again this year, except this time, the choices among the tallest were very few and very expensive. “This is really strange,” I told my son. “There’s not much here, and the prices are super-expensive. I’ve never seen it like this.”
That was the Saturday after Black Friday, our customary day for getting the tree. It was a good thing I went back a second time and wrote a check. The selection only dwindled in the days that followed. In fact, many tree sellers saw their stocks depleted the first weekend after Black Friday, as customers read reports of anticipated shortages.
“People started buying trees on Black Friday and they clobbered us,” says Fred Dauth Jr., whose family in New Jersey has been selling Christmas trees from the parking lot of the Montclair Beach Club since 1956. “Then we got wiped out on Sunday. They bought every single tree we owned.”
That seems to have occurred nationwide.
To be sure, some tree sellers haven’t had shortages, but those have been primarily the places that entirely produce their own. Of course, shortages elsewhere benefit those sellers, as they can increase prices based on supply-and-demand. But even many lots with their own stock often bring in trees from outside to make up for what they can’t grow nearby. Such is the case with my guy down the street. He can only grow so much, and so many varieties.
As for big cities, such as New York, where trees are sold from sidewalks, price gouging has been the predictable response. My lament at dropping over a hundred dollars on a tree will make New Yorkers laugh. They’ve been laying down triple figures for years. I can’t imagine what they’re forking over this season.
Whatever the factors involved, this is an unusually bad year for Christmas trees. The Grinch would be delighted at the pinch. But the good news remains: tree or no tree, you can’t steal Christmas.