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'Tis the season for Christmas trees

Last year, American bought more than 31 million cut Christmas trees.

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Christmas trees were cheaper and it was easy for people to go out and buy them,” said Carol Nilsson, public information specialist with the forest. “But there were always the people who wanted the Christmas experience of going out and finding them.”

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Last year, 149 people bought the $5 permits that entitled them to a map of the forest and up to three trees. But interest in the program is up this year, and officials expect more people to trudge along the forest’s trails to look for a tree — a trend Ms. Nilsson and others attribute to the recession.

“Trees, when you look at them in the wild, they look very different,” Nilsson said. “But to cut it down and drag it back out and put it in your car, it’s unique. And it’s a unique tree when you put it in your house. It’s not pruned and it’s not painted.”

At the Santa Cruz Host Lions Club in California, officers expect their Christmas tree-selling business to be slower than usual when they open shop Friday in a parking lot.

Last year, the group wound up mulching 200 unsold trees, and this year cut orders to 800, down from the 1,200 to 1,400 trees it typically stocks. The club, which has sold trees for more than four decades, also halved its order for the tallest trees.

Linda Alameda, who runs the club’s Christmas tree lot, said some shoppers are switching to artificial trees, while others are just simply scaling back to save money. And still more are heading to stores like Wal-Mart.

“I think people tend to go there just because they know where they’re at,” she said. “People probably go because they’re familiar with them, and I’m guessing they’re cheaper because they can get them by bulk and a lot cheaper than we can.”

Home Depot said its average tree, while depending on factors like market and size, sells for about $30 and is usually between six and seven feet tall. The Lions Club in Santa Cruz said it sells small tabletop trees for about $24 and has 11-foot to 12-foot trees that can be about $200.

At Home Depot’s 2,000 US. stores, it’s a revamped kind of Christmas tradition that’s taking hold.

Employees go through training seminars about how to help customers pick trees and how to safely tie them to roofs. And workers in the garden department are joined by a slew of volunteers from other areas of the store who want the opportunity to get a jump-start on the Christmas season.

“They get in the holiday spirit,” said Don Blume, Home Depot’s divisional merchandise manager. “They love to help set it up and help the consumers picking out the tree and help with loading.”

'Tis the season, indeed.

Christmas tree facts and figures

Where trees were bought (2007):
—Chain store: 23 percent
—Choose and harvest farm: 21 percent
—Nursery/garden center: 20 percent
—Retail lot: 12 percent
—Nonprofit group: 9 percent
—Other: 15 percent

Real versus fake? (2007):
—Real: 31.3 million
—Fake: 17.4 million.

Real versus fake? (2001):
—Real: 27.8 million.
—Fake: 7.3 million.

Source: National Christmas Tree Association