This is a special installation of contributor Jessica Hall’s weekly (Monday) column in which she interviews homeless or street people. Ever wondered about the people who sell Christmas trees on the sidewalk? Where they come from, how much they make, how the Canadian ones hit on girls? Read on.
I was walking along 1st avenue near 5th street at about midnight late in November and I saw this woman crouching with her dog at the base of an empty Christmas tree stand. I asked her what she was doing. "I’m waiting for my Christmas trees." She’s Leila, and her dog is Vida.
I usually interview homeless people, but I also interview street people, or people on the street.
In this situation I am much like the homeless.
Have you done this before?
It’s my first year. At a brunch with circus people in Montreal, someone said he was going to do it. I was curious because he said it was decent money and good seasonal work, especially if you like to travel and you’re a circus performer. And then I saw an ad.
What are the qualifications for this job?
You have to love trees, be willing to stay up all night, and all day, and come to New York City for a month. You have to like to
talk to people. When you do it, it becomes your life. Everyone is
responsible for their own stand. To do well you have to be motivated.
How did you get here?
I got a ride from Craigslist. Beautiful Craigslist.
How many trees are you waiting for now?
One hundred to 200.
Did you get training for this job?
It’s pretty basic really. Someone who’s into trees will come and tell
what makes a good tree. You want to look at the crown and see if it’s
full and even. See if it’s symmetrical, the quality of the foliage, if
there’s holes in it, if the color is even and deep.
What types of trees do you sell?
Fraser Spruce is really nice, but it takes about 8 years to grow—they
sell for more. And they keep longer. Their needles stay really well and
fragrant. You can buy one right after Thanksgiving and it will keep.
They go for $50 to $100. And $150 for the best tree. We also sell
Balsam. Some people say they smell better. They grow faster, four to
five years. They sell for $20 or $30. Up to $70. We also sell small
trees for apartments for about $15, 20, 30.
Do you expect people to bargain for trees?
How will you deal with that?
Try to find their price range and see what they’re looking for.
What if what they’re looking for is a really big tree for $30?
I’ll find a tree with a lot of holes in it. The idea is to find what
people want. I receive the trees at night and I get to know them all.
I grew up in the forest and in my family we always went out to get our
own tree and take it home. My mom would always say, "Oh, my gosh, that
has a hole in it!" and we’d get another tree. I also went to Waldorf
School. Christmas is a really important season for children because
it’s magic. We’d celebrate advent, the four Sundays before Christmas,
and light a candle every day. We’d bake a lot and have a lot of
company. My sister would come and we’d make popcorn strings.
Do you know the history of the Christmas tree?
In pre-Christian Europe people celebrated Yule in the middle of winter.
It was when they’d know if they had enough food to get through to
spring and also they were done with work. It’s the shortest day and the
darkest time and after that the light will return. The evergreen
represents the life that’s still there. People would bring green into
their homes as if it were holy. Christmas green is symbolic of life.
That’s from a time that people’s relationship to the land was really
important to them.
Do you know about the reputation of the Canadian Christmas tree men?
No, but I want to.
Well, they usually find some very nice ladies to let them shower at their apartment, if you know what I mean.
I’m not surprised. All these Quebecois men, they’re very charming. I’ve lived in Montreal and I can vouch for this.
How much money do you expect to make?
Two to four, maybe five thousand dollars. But that’s a little
unrealistic. I also sell crafts and Christmas decorations that I make
myself. And I’m also making origami stars to put on windows. There’s 10
variations that get increasingly complex.
How long are you going to wait for the trees?
I’m here all night, but it’s OK because I have a lot of clothes on. But
when you’re out all night you’re really out all night. You stay out and
talk to people coming home from the bars. They’re really friendly. I
mostly believe as a rule that people are really good.