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In a tough year, families find joy in real Christmas trees

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

This year, about a decade since Ms Protsko, 34, last brought a real Christmas tree home, she decided to go with her children and boyfriend, Joseph Storminger, to Christmas trees in Bell in Accord, New York, rekindling a cherished family tradition.

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

The stress of 2020, including an out of control pandemic, protests against racial injustice and a bitterly contested presidential election, has left many Americans like Ms Protsko looking for tidbits of joy wherever they are. The holidays have provided an outlet.

As demand increased, some cut and cut tree farms, like Bell’s, ran out of Christmas tree stocks for the very first time. Elsewhere, retail lots have been cleaned up as families bought their first fresh Christmas trees, or their firsts 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 growing a dozen varieties of Christmas trees. The Bell family began planting trees in 1991 as they planned to turn away from the arduous dairy business that had been at the heart of the farm for decades.

Christmas trees turned out to be more popular than expected, so they planted more each year. This year, their offer ran out. Bell’s announced it will close for the season on Dec. 8, 15 days earlier than last year, to preserve the smaller, less mature trees that the farm plans to sell next year and for years to come. “We can’t grow them fast enough,” Mr. Bell said.

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

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

Ms Protsko said she wanted to make the vacation even more 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, line it with soothing white lights, and fill it with Ms. Protsko’s childhood Barbie ornaments and her children’s dinosaur ornaments.

“It’s not a perfect big tree for magazines,” she says. “It’s made up of memories over the years.”

Jacquelyn and Justin Swisher from Stone Ridge, New York, bought a six-foot tree from Bell’s, brought it home, and decorated it with ornately-framed family photos including their wedding photo and an ultrasound of their young son, Cashton.

Ms Swisher said she wanted to start new holiday traditions with Cashton, now 17 months old, who is delighted that Santa is coming to visit.

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

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

“I knew my son would like a little adventure,” she said, “and if she knew he had chosen her, it would probably make her smile.

Having a festive home, said Ms Swisher, is a great way to prepare for a fresh start next year, as her family hopes to overcome the pandemic and focus on bright, fun and positive activities.

“We wanted our home to be nice and special for the holiday season.” she said. “We hope that what we have here is a good start to 2021.”