Manitobans rush to buy Christmas trees, ‘bring some normal back’ to the holidays

While many Manitoba businesses are seeing a slowdown, or are shuttered entirely due to pandemic restrictions, one industry seems to be booming this year.

Christmas tree lots say they’re busier than usual this year, with some retailers in Manitoba saying they’re seeing record sales from shoppers looking for a piece of holiday tradition during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ray DuBois, who owns Ron Paul Garden Centre in Winnipeg, said on Saturday, his store had its busiest day for Christmas tree sales in 11 years.

“It’s a consistent message we are hearing across the board from our suppliers … everybody is selling trees like they’ve never sold” before, said DuBois.  

The electronic payment system used at Ron Paul Garden Centre is on a two-metre-long stick in order to keep staff and clients safe. (Jonathan Ventura/CBC)

Many of his customers are looking for a way to make this holiday feel cheerful, he said.

“Everyone’s just trying to make something special … bring some normal back to what has been an abnormal time,” he said.

Trees at Ron Paul have been all moved outdoors this year, to comply with pandemic restrictions that prohibit the sale of non-essential items inside stores. The trees are organized in lanes outside by size and type. 

Customers can drive up and down the lanes, looking for their new holiday tree.

New customers like Dan Law are among those who are using the garden centre’s drive-thru tree lot. 

Law’s family was on the hunt for their first real Christmas tree.

“We’re making it an extra-special year, as special as we can, given the year we’ve had so far,” he said. 

Dan Law and his family purchased their first real Christmas tree this year, in an attempt to make this holiday extra special despite health restrictions. (Jonathan Ventura/CBC)

The garden centre isn’t alone in seeing a rush of customers snapping up what few Christmas trees remain at lots. 

The 67th Winnipeg Scout Group is well-known for its annual River Heights-area Christmas tree fundraiser, which has been running for 56 years.

They sold half their stock in less than two weeks, which is ahead of schedule, said tree lot co-ordinator Mary Brown.

In an email to CBC on Tuesday, she said they were expecting to sell all of their 2,000 trees prior to their planned end date of Dec. 22.

But a notice on the Scout troupe’s website Wednesday said they’ve had to temporarily suspend preorders for their curbside pickup program due to the demand.

“We hope to begin taking orders again in the coming days, if we have sufficient trees,” the site says.

More than just a tree

The tree is a quintessential symbol of Christmas for many families.

For Sherri Buss it’s more than a decoration — it’s a tradition that ties generations of her family together.  

Since 1997, Buss has been putting up ornaments that represent members of her family who have died.

“It’s sad but it’s happy, because we bring back all those funny stories as we put up the tree,” she said.

It all started with an angel that represents her late father, Jim Hoban.

He was the one that started the family tradition of going into the forest and cutting down the family Christmas tree, a tradition that has continued for three generations.

Buss describes her father as a serious man, but around Christmastime he would change, she says.

On Christmas morning, he would often be the first one up, and would wake the children by jumping on their beds.

Sherri Buss stands next to her real Christmas tree, which is decorated with ornaments that represent late family members. (Jonathan Ventura/CBC)

Since her father’s death, Buss has continued the tradition of having a real Christmas tree every year, and has passed it on to her grandchildren.

The family didn’t cut down their own tree this year (the province announced on Wednesday that Manitobans who want to do so this year can now purchase a permit to cut their own trees).

But she’s still happy to have a real Christmas tree in her home to display the ornaments that remind her of her loved ones. 

This year, she hoped that they wouldn’t have to add another ornament for a family member, but her uncle-in-law died recently.

Buss and her husband were not able to attend his funeral because of COVID-19 restrictions, so they’ve added a ornament hand-made by her grandson to celebrate his life.

For the family, the ornaments hold history and memories that are being passed on.

“The kids are knowing their ancestors. They’re knowing where they came from and hearing the stories as they are growing up,” said Buss.

She believes that it’s more important than ever for her family to hold on to their Christmas tree tradition.

“This year especially, what you can keep of your traditions are very important, and I also think it’s very, very important to make new traditions,” she said.