Oh, Tannenbaum! How Essential Are Thy Branches

Dec 2, 2020

At Country Gardens, tree shoppers hunt for that semblance of normalcy.
Credit Caleb Suggs/WKNO

The scent of pine needles and apple cider filled the air of Country Gardens, a nursery at the Agricenter that turns into a full-fledged Christmas tree lot every November.

I stood between a couple of seven-footers talking to Mikala McDaniel, who said she was more than ready for the holidays to begin.

“It’s been a tough year,” McDaniel said. “A stressful year, and Christmas makes me happy, so I needed it sooner.”

Mikala’s mom, Lori McDaniel runs Country Gardens. Lori noticed that before Thanksgiving, people were already on the lookout for some holiday cheer.

“We’ve seen people come more early because they’re just simply ready,” McDaniel said. “If anything we’re starting to see our customers come in and just want to walk around the trees to start feeling the spirit of Christmas.”

Tim Russell was one of those people not there to shop. Despite all the reminders of the pandemic—his mask and the social distancing—just being there brought a little light into this time of darkness.

“Part of the tradition is getting out in the hustle and bustle and seeing people and kind of being associated with Christmas again,” Russell said.

Black Friday was a busy day at the tree lot. While some families hit the malls, Fritz Ruthling and his family were out for the tree.

Lori McDaniel, left, says customers began Christmas tree shopping earlier this year.
Credit Caleb Suggs/WKNO

“This is something we can do to latch on to a sense of normalcy when this has been such a horribly abnormal year and taken such a stress on so many people, ourselves included,” Ruthling said. “I’m just very thankful to God that I’m able to spend this time with my wife and children.”

The holidays are going to be a lot different this year—friends and extended family can’t visit. Some traditions are on hold.

That sense of change or disruption hit Lauren Martin over Thanksgiving. Buying a tree with her daughter was one way she tried to capture the “essence” of the holiday.

“A lot of the extra is stripped away, so you have to really think about ‘what does it mean to be thankful?” Martin said. “And a lot of that goes into the deep, intrinsic ideas that we carry around with us but often disappear because there’s so much extraneous--So family and friends and the fact that we’re here and we’re alive.”

Here and alive-- a couple of gifts for 2020 that deserve to be under every Christmas tree.

This story is produced through a partnership with the University of Memphis' Institute for Public Service Reporting.