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'Tis the season for Christmas trees

Last year, American bought more than 31 million cut Christmas trees.

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Getting ready: Paul Lacson sorts Christmas trees at a Home Depot in Carol Stream, Ill. The home retailer – the nation's largest seller of fresh-cut trees -- expects to sell about 2 million Christmas trees between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

M. Spencer Green/AP

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As Christmas traditions go, this one’s big.

Every year, the Proeber family traipses through the fields of central Illinois searching for the perfect Christmas tree before breaking out the saw, tying their selection to the roof of their car and hauling it back to their living room.

“It would be a whole day’s worth of celebration, a whole day of entertainment,” said Jan Proeber, a minister from Lexington, Ill. “You smelled Christmas and you tasted Christmas and you felt Christmas.”

But such rituals — cemented for many in the collective American memory thanks to Currier & Ives and Norman Rockwell and, yes, even Chevy Chase — may be fading.

Last year, 16 percent of the nation’s 31.3 million live Christmas trees were cut by the people whose family rooms they’d grace, according to industry data. A larger percentage, roughly one in four, were bought at big-box chains.

The segment’s Christmas tree business has been steadily growing, overtaking sales from cut-it-yourself farms last year while continually overpowering tree-selling venues such as nurseries, retail lots, and nonprofit groups, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

The Home Depot Inc., the nation’s largest retailer of fresh-cut trees, expects to sell about 2 million trees between Thanksgiving and Christmas during a carefully choreographed sales extravaganza.

The production, which began Monday when the company’s stores around the nation started to receive shipments of trees from two dozen farms, is so detailed that the Atlanta-based company knows just where to send tall trees (wealthier suburban communities where homes are more likely to have been designed with cathedral ceilings) and what varieties sell better in certain regions (balsam firs in the northern US; noble firs in the West.)

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