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Money Does Grow on Trees

The average cost of a real Christmas tree has doubled over the past ten years. When capitalism crosses over into parenting projects, I feel like Santa in the workshop rubbing my hands (and calculators) together with a big smile of anticipation.

I love trying to solve a question I do not know the answer to and stretching my brain. It is my own self-imposed rule to prevent getting old.

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Let us not forget that Christmas trees started out decorated with lit candles so, no, things were not always better back then. The good ole days are only getting better if we choose to never walk right past them and miss an opportunity to trade expectations for appreciation.

Appreciate what those Christmas tree farmers go through. It is actually a difficult businesses with the lumpiest revenue seasonality. A lot of time and money is spent after each seed is planted to grow your Christmas tree. They must be treated regularly for insects. Sheared and shaped by hand as they grow. The ground all around has to be treated, and soil analyzed. The farm must be irrigated and fertilized. Maintaining good drainage is a key. Pruning, wrapping, and transporting an oddly shaped final product is another several steps of commerce. It takes a lot of trucks and fuel to move them.

About ten long years later, the farmer has a Christmas tree he can sell you this year. Working a decade to collect all their sales over two weeks’ time!

According to the National Christmas Tree Association there are close to 350 million trees growing right now in all 50 states. Each year close to 30 million are cut down and sold. Over 80% of all artificial trees are grown in China.

Remember what was happening ten years ago? The Great Recession interrupted some consumers’ desire to spend. Fewer trees were cut down and a lot of farms closed. As a result, fewer total new seeds were planted. Droughts and wildfires killed many more than the average 10% they lose each normal year. The number of growers in Oregon, the nation’s #1 exporter of Christmas trees, has been cut in half over the past ten years.

So, this year the supply of mature trees is tighter than usual and with demand strong – voila – we get much higher prices. That is not bad, that is business.

O Capitalism tree, O Capitalism ain’t free

How lovely are thy supply chains

Fewer trees with crowds to please

No turning ‘round, it’s comin down

O Capitalism tree, O Capitalism’s pricey

How lovely are thy demand cycles

…for those who anticipate them.

At the very least, it is a fun exercise of gratitude to ask your kids or grandkids when they think their Christmas tree was born. Then I asked mine to try and name each different business that had a hand in growing it.

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I just assumed much more confident faces supporting me when I had my head down with that saw. I notice some doubt and that my wife did not even put her purse down apparently with no expectation of a tree leaning her way.

I do not expect the kids to quote Adam Smith from the Wealth of Nations just yet. But he should have included the Christmas tree farmer when he reminds us, “It is not the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” I will worry about showing them free cash flow and operating profit margins kinda stink for that farmer later. For now, we just want to talk about being grateful for them.

I have one steadfast rule during each research project – get lost on purpose along the way, at least once – to work on belief systems as well. Those get turned into supper talks at my table, the ultimate dividends. If you are just a green blooded capitalist this is your stopping point. Merry Christmas! Read no more below.


But we like to talk about miracles also. When you have five kids who want to see snow in Houston, TX you gotta be a Believer. Then December 8, 2017 comes along!!!

I got lost reading about Saint Boniface. His mission was to evangelize parts of northern and central Europe. Pope St. Gregory II encouraged him to preach the Gospel to Germans and disrupt their pagan superstitions.

Marching through the snow covered forest one Christmas Eve with his faithful crew, they came upon a large group worshipping a tall oak tree. They prepared for a human sacrifice to Thor their god of thunder and war. St. Boniface stopped the sacrifice, and instead used an ax to chop down the oak tree.

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Behind the giant oak stood a young evergreen fir tree. “This little tree shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace. It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to Heaven? Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child. Cease my sons from fighting…for the witness of Scripture recommends that we do not give an eye for an eye but rather good for evil.”

St. Boniface went on to baptize many of those Germans over the next several years. The Catholic tradition of using these evergreen trees to celebrate Christmas spread throughout Germany. German immigrants in the New World continued to spread this custom. One of those was my great-grandfather Otto Krueger who left Bremen, Germany and settled in Miles, TX when he was 6-years old.

Five generations later, I appreciate more than ever what went into our Christmas tree.