It's a wonderful life for Minnesota's Christmas tree producers and operators of cut-your-own tree farms. This holiday season has brought renewed consumer interest in trimming a natural evergreen, reversing a long decline in sales.

"We're all seeing a big increase in sales, and customers started showing up earlier than usual," said Mark Hansen, outgoing president of the Minnesota Christmas Tree Association. "We attribute it to the COVID situation. Families are looking for an activity, whether it's going to the lot together or cutting a tree. They're not traveling, so they won't have the one at Grandma's this Christmas."

Hansen calculates a 50% hike in the number of customers chopping down trees at his farm (hansentreeĀ­farm.com) in Ramsey; Black Friday was the single busiest day in the 65-year history of the family-run operation. In the past, the farm was open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. This season, the Hansens are open Wednesdays and Thursdays, too, in a nod to more flexible work and school schedules.

The heightened interest comes despite the absence of the fun and games that have accompanied many tree farm visits in the past.

"We've had a gift shop and entertainment with hay rides and refreshments, but not this year," Hansen said. "Our industry follows rules and regulations for farm sales, so places that have had Santa or a petting zoo can't do any of that."

Dressing a home with evergreens at the winter solstice is an ancient pagan ritual, but a decorated tree has become what German historian Bernd Brunner termed "the most important and enduring symbol of Christmas." Recent decades have seen more use of artificial trees to spruce up homes during the holidays.

But Hansen hopes this year's renewed interest will herald a return to tradition. "Seems like people want a live tree in the house right now, with that character and fragrance."ā–”

Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis freelance writer.