SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Look; a lot of holiday traditions have been upended this year by the pandemic, including how some people get Christmas trees. As Nick de la Canal of member station WFAE reports, more people are getting their trees now like fruitcakes - by mail order.
NICK DE LA CANAL, BYLINE: Preparing a 7-foot Christmas tree for a cross-country FedEx trip is not as difficult as you might think, if that is something you've thought about.
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DE LA CANAL: Workers use a baling machine to tie up all the branches with twine. Then they slide the tree, trunk first, into a narrow cardboard box.
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DE LA CANAL: They staple it shut, and the package is ready to be shipped to almost anywhere in the U.S. The trees can survive up to eight days in a box, or about the time it takes to travel from the East to the West Coast.
Johnny Wishon has mailed Christmas trees from his farm in Sparta, N.C., for the past 12 years. He shakes his head, thinking back to those first few trees he boxed up for FedEx.
JOHNNY WISHON: Honestly, I thought it was crazy, too (laughter).
DE LA CANAL: Typically, his farm mails out a few hundred Christmas trees each holiday season. But this year...
WISHON: I'd say we're up 20% at least - yeah, yeah.
DE LA CANAL: And the orders also came in earlier than normal this year. The first ones were placed in late October before he'd even started cutting the trees. Other farmers, like Mike Lyons, who runs the website christmastreesinthemail.com, says he received orders even earlier than that.
MIKE LYONS: I started getting numerous requests in September and October, just people, you know, wanting to make sure they can, you know, have a tree secured.
DE LA CANAL: He had to scramble to find enough boxes to keep up, and he was completely sold out of mail-order trees by the second week of December.
Another farmer, Ben Hoyt of Mountain Star Farms in Woodsville, N.H., says a lot of his online orders are coming from a new type of customer.
BEN HOYT: Normally, we get a lot of people that are just super busy, you know? And they just want it to be at their door. This year, I kind of feel like it's a combination between the people that are busy and the people who - like, I just don't want to go out. I don't want to be anywhere where I don't have to be. And if I can get a tree by the mail, then I'm going to do that.
DE LA CANAL: He thinks people are hungry for a sense of normalcy this year. And there's something about setting up a Christmas tree and inhaling the fresh-cut aroma that brings people back to their childhood or to past years, when the world wasn't such a challenge.
That's partly why Jennifer Lear (ph) ordered a tree online this year. Because of shipping, it cost twice as much as a typical tree. But she didn't mind. As a schoolteacher in Northern Virginia, she didn't want to bring her family to a crowded Christmas tree farm like in past years.
JENNIFER LEAR: But it was important to us to keep that, you know, tradition of, this is the weekend that we put up the tree and, you know, start celebrating the Christmas season.
DE LA CANAL: She ordered a 6-foot balsam fir that arrived December 2, which her kids helped unbox and decorate. She says it almost felt like an antidote to the strangeness of these last few months.
LEAR: I mean, being able to maintain traditions that you have year after year, even if it's not the whole tradition but part of it - that definitely helps bring some normalcy to a very odd 2020.
DE LA CANAL: She doesn't know if she'll do it again next year. But for now, it means she and her family get to keep their tradition and celebrate the holiday almost as if things were normal.
For NPR News, I'm Nick de la Canal in Charlotte.
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