In a Hard Year, Families Find Joy in Real Christmas Trees

When Allison Protsko was a child, the arrival of the Christmas season meant driving with her family to pick out a Christmas tree, cutting it down themselves and dragging it home.

This year, about a decade since Ms. Protsko, 34, last brought a real Christmas tree into her home, she decided to go with her children and her boyfriend, Joseph Storminger, to Bell’s Christmas Trees in Accord, N.Y., reviving a cherished family tradition.

“Just the smell from the tree brings back that Christmas feeling and the memories from childhood,” Ms. Protsko said.

The stress of 2020, including an out-of-control pandemic, protests against racial injustice and a bitterly contested presidential election, left many Americans like Ms. Protsko grasping for scraps of joy wherever they could be found. The holidays offered an outlet.

As demand has surged, some pick-and-cut tree farms, like Bell’s, have sold out their supplies of Christmas trees for the first time ever. Elsewhere, retail lots have been picked clean as families have bought their first fresh Christmas trees, or their first ones in a very long time.

Bell’s Christmas Trees, about 100 miles north of New York City, has dedicated about 25 of its 150 acres to the nurturing of a dozen varieties of Christmas trees. The Bell family started planting trees in 1991 as they were planning to pivot away from the strenuous dairy business that had been the farm’s focus for decades.

The Christmas trees proved more popular than expected, so they planted more every year. This year, their supply sold out. Bell’s announced that it would close for the season on Dec. 8, 15 days earlier than last year, to preserve the smaller, less mature trees that the farm was counting on selling next year and in the years to come. “We can’t grow them fast enough,” Mr. Bell said.

Just four days before Bell’s closed for the season, Ms. Protsko and her family drove about 45 minutes to the farm from their home in Montgomery, N.Y. They cut down at 14-foot tree, rolled it down a hill and drove home with at least a foot of it sticking out of their truck.

“Next year, we’ll bring a tape measure,” she said.

Ms. Protsko said she wanted to make the holiday extra special for her children, Richie, 5, and Will, 3, after a difficult year in which she and her husband separated.

They planned to decorate the tree together, lining it with calming white lights and filling it with the Barbie ornaments from Ms. Protsko’s childhood and her children’s dinosaur ornaments.

“It’s not a big magazine-picture-perfect tree,” she said. “It’s made of memories over the years.”

Jacquelyn and Justin Swisher of Stone Ridge, N.Y., bought a six-foot tree at Bell’s, brought it home and decorated it with family photos framed in ornaments, including their wedding photo and a sonogram of their young son, Cashton.

Ms. Swisher said she wanted to start new holiday traditions with Cashton, now 17 months, who is excited for Santa Claus to visit.

She said the pandemic had contributed to a draining year in her job as a second-grade teacher. Desperate for a safe, fun family activity, they went to Bell’s right after Thanksgiving to buy a real tree, their first as a family. Getting one, she said, will be her perfect Christmas tradition.

On Dec. 6, they returned to Bell’s, this time to find a tree for a sick colleague of Ms. Swisher’s. She and her husband looked for the perfect tree as Cashton ran around.

“I knew that my son would like a little adventure,” she said, “and if she knew that he picked it out, it’d probably make her smile.”

Having a festive home, Ms. Swisher said, is a good way to prepare for a fresh start next year, when her family hopes to move past the pandemic and focus on activities that are bright and fun and positive.

“We wanted our home to be nice and special for the holiday season.” she said. “We’re hoping that what we have going here is a nice beginning for 2021.”