The family was happy they were able to get a real tree this year. When the farm was closed in 2020 because of the coronavirus, the Johnsons got an artificial tree instead. And the year before that, they came out to Linden Hill a bit too late in the season and “didn’t get a good fit,” Jesse Johnson said.
This year, they set their alarms early and drove 30 minutes from their home in Severn, Md.
“We thought that there’d probably be a big rush of people, so we said, ‘Let’s go early, as soon as they open, so we can get our first choice,’” Johnson said.
Black Friday kicked off Christmas tree cutting season at the 16 acre property. At about 9 a.m., a crowd had just started pouring in, but owner and operator Sarah Stockstill predicted it would pick up heavily by the afternoon. By next weekend, they would probably be completely sold out of trees, she said.
“The parking lot is going to get so full,” she said, adding that some families would probably have to park out along the highway.
Christmas trees are in a shorter supply this year, much like other products during the economic mayhem of 2021. Many of the families at the Linden Hill Christmas Tree Farm on Friday said they came soon after the Thanksgiving holiday because they worried the supply issues would result in them missing out on a tree altogether.
“We’ve kind of decided that it’s going to be a day after Thanksgiving tradition,” Drew Saelens, 41, of Alexandria, Va., said. “But we used to wait. We used to go in December.”
Both Saelens and his wife, Kelsey, 32, grew up with real trees instead of artificial ones. They brought their two kids, Jack and Molly, along with them, and Kelsey’s father was looking around the property for a tree for his home as well.
“We mark a couple and argue and after like an hour, we eventually settle on one,” Drew Saelens said.
“And then we remember that the experience of doing this is way better than the actual tree,” Kelsey Saelens joked.
Linden Hill was built in 1889 by Stockstill’s ancestors, but it became a Christmas tree farm in 1998. Crump plans to expand the farm’s supply for upcoming years by planting more trees on the south side of the property — especially because the trees on the north side are starting to get thin, he said. But there’s no telling officially when it will open, since the trees grow on average about a foot each year.
“Being shut down for covid actually helped us a lot since they were able to grow and fill in,” Crump said.
The farm supplements the trees it sells by bringing in balsam and Douglas firs from a supplier. Two years ago, they had 250 precut trees ready to be sold, but because of the supply shortages, they were only able to get their hands on about 125 this year.
“Everything has slowed down and the price of them went ballistic,” Crump said. “We’re trying to keep all the trees under $200, but there were one or two that were over $200, and that was it.”
Each year, they sell out quickly, Stockstill said. Two years ago, they were out of trees within six days, and the year before that, it happened in a little less than two weeks.
Karen and John Donovan, from Severna Park, Md., have been coming to Linden Hill every year since 2003. Karen, 51, used to work with Stockstill at an elementary school, so they come out to support their friend’s business and get a fresh tree.
Last year, they didn’t get a tree, John Donovan said. With Linden Hill closed because of the pandemic, the Donovans searched three different places, and even drove out to Annapolis to try to get a tree at the mall — but they were all gone, he said.
“We don’t usually come out on the first day, but we know [the farm] sells out quickly, so we try to get here fairly quickly,” Karen Donovan said.
Back at Linden Hill on Friday, the Donovans used a handsaw to cut down their tree, getting the pines at the bottom cut so it would stand up easily.
As the morning moved on, children raced around the trees, eager and in the holiday spirit. Cars started packing the parking lot.
A family of four in the middle of lot was cutting down their tree. As it began to fall over, a child’s voice again called out: “Timber!”