A Christmas tree market in front of the Barclay Street Station circa 1895. Photo via the Library of Congress
The convenience of walking to the corner bodega and haggling for a Christmas tree is something most of us take for granted, but this seasonal industry is one that actually predates Christmas’ 1870 establishment as a national holiday and continues to be a one-of-a-kind business model today. In fact, in 1851, a tree stand set up for $1 at the west side’s Washington Market became the nation’s very first public Christmas tree market, the impetus behind it being a way to save New Yorkers a trip out of town to chop down their own trees. Ahead, find out the full history of this now-national trend and how it’s evolved over the years.
The roots of the Christmas tree industry
Photo: NYC Parks / D. Avila
Not quite sure how to get rid of that Christmas Tree? From December 26 to January 11, NYC will be hosting its annual Mulchfest so that you can recycle your tree at a local park. With 67 total drop-off sites throughout the five boroughs—32 of which are chipping sites—it’s easier than ever to get your tree turned into mulch that will be used to help nourish trees and plants across the city.
How to participate this year
Image of the first Christmas tree in City Hall park in 1913; via Library of Congress
In 1912, the nation’s first public Christmas tree went up in Madison Square Park and sparked a new trend that would soon spread to parks across the city and beyond. The following year, acting Mayor Ardolph Kline initiated a similar tradition when he asked a young boy to help him light a Christmas tree in City Hall Park. By 1934, tree lighting celebrations became a citywide effort, with the Parks Department putting up 14 fifty-foot Norway Spruce trees throughout the city. Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia dedicated the trees from City Hall Park and broadcasted the ceremony to sites across the city.
Good luck finding a Christmas tree in NYC for under $75 this year; Photo by Billy Williams on Unsplash
A Christmas tree vendor in Manhattan is selling 20-foot Fraser firs for $6,500 each, most likely the most expensive evergreen in the city, the New York Post reported Sunday. Scott Lechner, the manager of Soho Trees, located near Canal Street, told the newspaper that the exorbitant prices aren’t slowing sales. “We’re sold out,” he said. The steep price tag includes delivery and installation.
The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center may be the most popular conifer in New York City, with 125 million people visiting the tree each year, but it certainly is not the only one. Every holiday season, spruces adorned with colorful lights and ornaments pop up across the five boroughs. The city’s many holiday trees each offer a unique take on the tradition, which began in NYC in 1912 when the first public Christmas tree was erected in Madison Square Park. For those looking to skip the Midtown crowds this year, we’ve rounded up 20 of the best holiday trees and lighting ceremonies, from the origami tree at the American Museum of Natural History to the flotilla of trees in Central Park’s Harlem Meer.
Get the full list
A Christmas tree stand at 6th Avenue and 14th Street. Image: 6sqft
Each year in December, scores of Christmas tree vendors descend on New York City from as far as Quebec to turn the city’s sidewalks into a virtual pop-up forest. What makes this seasonal opportunity so appealing? The “coniferous tree” exception, a City Council law dating from 1938, says vendors can sell and display Christmas trees on a sidewalk in December without a permit as long as they get an ok from adjacent building owners and they don’t block the sidewalk. Sellers lobby adjacent storefronts for permission, sometimes paying a fee and often in competition with other sellers. This year, as the New York Times reports, competition from chain stores–and other vendors jockeying for prime spots in parks and other public locations that come with high fees–are chopping into the profits for the army of tree sellers that descends on the city at holiday time. Costs get passed to consumers–and prices are soaring.
Why trees are demanding more green this year
For traditionalists who relish the ritual of bringing home the perfect evergreen, the idea of any man-made alternative has little appeal. But just as many tree-seekers are happy to anchor their December decor with a Christmas tree that doesn’t shed and doesn’t need to be sent to the curb when the season’s over. The options are as varied as the reasons we love them: Some literally take up no space, perfect for tiny apartments. Others are perfectly modern, rustic, retro or Nordic to reflect the style of their owners. Below are 15 fun, festive, sustainable and re-usable alternatives to pine and fir.
deck the halls, this way
On December 21, 1912, a 60-foot-tall tree arrived by horse-drawn truck from the Adirondacks to provide Manhattan’s Madison Square Park with the glow of 2,300 colored electric bulbs. The twinklers were donated by the Edison Company, and the tree was the first of its kind: Having a Christmas tree in one’s living room was a familiar custom, but a tree outside in a public park was something new.
Get the whole history right this way
$1,000, as the Post notes, could pay for more than 600 meals for the homeless at the Bowery Mission, or 25 holiday gifts for in-need New Yorkers through the Winter Wishes program. It could also get you an “exotic” white fir Christmas tree off the street in Greenwich Village. Sixteen-year tree saleswoman Heather Neville, who runs a stand at Seventh Avenue and 11th Street, is charging $77 per foot for a 13-foot tree, which equals $750. Add to that a $200 stand, $25 delivery and setup fee, and $20 for the three men doing the job, and you’ve got yourself a four-figure Christmas tree.
If you think this is bad, just wait
Our ongoing series Apartment Living 101 is aimed at helping New Yorkers navigate the challenges of creating a happy home in the big city. This week we’ve rounded up some alternative holiday tree ideas for those living in tight spaces.
While you could buy a Charlie Brown tree, or try ask to have a few feet knocked off that pine when you hit the register, if you’re a small space dweller who wants a more eco-friendly holiday arbol this year, there are plenty of options for you beyond the classic artificial fir (which fyi is even more environmentally unsound than chopping down an evergreen thanks to the carcinogens produced during manufacturing and disposal). From edible trees to LED pines to DIY options that smell just as good as the real thing, 6sqft has searched high and low for 10 different types of sustainable Christmas tree alternatives to jazz your apartment up with this year—and years to come.
ten alternative ideas here