The trek to the Christmas tree lot — the smell of fresh pine, the hay rides and apple cider — is an annual tradition for many in the Bay Area, one that kicks off while many are still figuring out what to do with all those Thanksgiving leftovers.
Many tree farms open for business on Thanksgiving weekend and brace themselves for the onslaught of discerning tree-shoppers. On the Peninsula, Steve’s Christmas Trees in Burlingame expected a shipment of 800 trees on Tuesday and expected to sell up to 2,000 conifers before Dec. 25.
Many in San Mateo County have made it an annual custom to visit one of Steve’s sister lots, one stationed at the San Mateo County Expo Center, to purchase trees on Thanksgiving Day.
"It’s part of their family tradition to come early, while family is in town for Thanksgiving," said Mike McCarroll, manager of the Steve’s lot in Burlingame. "Also, the best selection is the early selection."
Sales of real Christmas trees — as opposed to the plastic ones sold in stores — has boomed in recent years, according to Pat Gaskin, chairman for the National Christmas Tree Association’s legislative committee. During the 2005 Christmas season, the association’s 21,000 member farms grew and sold $32 million in Christmas trees, a number that is constantly growing.
"Our association has done a good job of promoting real Christmas trees," Gaskin said. "It’s a fresh, nice product, it’s an environmentally friendly choice compared to plastic trees, and it builds memories — I think our country needs something good like that."
Recently, the association encouraged the U.S. House of Representatives to pass Resolution 96, which recognizes the Christmas-tree industry and allows that industry to further promote itself, according to Gaskin. More than 100,000 people hold Christmas-tree jobs each year.
Not all Christmas-tree lots are profit-based. One of San Francisco’s most popular lots, run by The Guardsmen at Fort Mason, is staffed by volunteers from throughout The City.
"It could be the CEO of a company, a fireman or a marketing person. You never know. Everyone dresses in coveralls," saidLucas Mast, spokesman for The Guardsmen.
The Guardsmen’s lot, which doesn’t open until Nov. 29, sells about 3,300 Christmas trees each year, raising more than $200,000 for summer-camp membership and scholarships for San Francisco’s at-risk youth. The longevity and community contributions have drawn a regular and loyal following.
"People know they can come down, it’s a very social atmosphere, and our volunteers will help them pick out their trees," Mast said.