I was born with a rare genetic condition that causes me to dislike holidays—which, like the Olympics, should only be celebrated once every four years. Against doctor's orders, I also happened to attach my life to someone who actually enjoys holidays, and as a consequence, was recently forced to participate in finding a Christmas tree. This was harder than you'd think: We went by the old Dunshee House on 17th where we've bought Christmas trees and garland in the past (last year our house was so dripping with pine boughs that it smelled like an air freshener), but after nearly 30 years in operation, the house itself was torn down to make way for million dollar townhomes, and the jolly gay men who sold Christmas trees there were nowhere to be found.
We drove around to a few more locations but the trees were either nonexistent or insanely expensive. We live in a Seattle apartment, not a suburban McMansion, and so were looking for something thigh-high or smaller, but even those would have set us back $50. This is part of a trend: According to the National Christmas Tree Association, Christmas tree prices increased 17 percent from 2015 to 2017, and this year, prices are even higher.
Why? Like most industries, the Christmas tree industry goes through ups and downs, says to Jana Sifuentes, the owner of McMurtrey's Red-Wood Christmas Trees in Redmond. When there's a glut in the market, farmers plant fewer trees, which is what happened roughly a decade ago, when the trees we'd be purchasing this year were first planted. At the same time, the Recession hit, which meant ever fewer trees made it into the ground.
Sifuentes thinks there's something else going on as well. "I don't have any hard data on this but I know that a lot of those farmers that we used to work with are no longer there," she says. "A lot of farmers are getting older and their children do not want to farm, so they are selling their land and getting out."
Climate change may have an impact, too. The Willamette Week published a story this week about a Portland tree farmer who says that the changing weather, with increases in temperature as well as drought, has been killing his stock. But Sifuentes says that in her experience, climate change is more likely to impact the quality of the tree than the sheer numbers. "Where I see climate change effecting trees is more in how well they last," she says. "If they’ve been in a drought situation all summer long, it can effect the trees and how long they last."
Still, despite the rising prices of trees, Sifuentes wants people to know that they are worth the investment. "I own 12 acres of trees in the middle of Redmond," she says. "So in the middle of a very dense population, you still get the benefits of those trees giving off oxygen and doing all the things that trees do. When you buy a tree, you are supporting something that’s been helping the environment for seven or eight years."
As for my household, we finally found the perfect tree after hours of searching. It's was short, expensive, and a pain in the ass—exactly what the holidays are all about.