BANGOR, Me. — It’s the time of year to bundle up, pick out a tree, and make time for tradition.
Despite everything this year has brought, there are moments worth celebrating, and in some places, life almost seems normal.
“Everything has been canceled or changed, or you can't do this, you can't do this that, and the nice thing about our trees here is they're planted at 6 feet apart, coincidentally,” said Mac McCullen, owner of the Piper Mountain Christmas Tree Farm.
The Piper Mountain Christmas Tree Farm didn’t plan for a pandemic, but they’re hoping families can find a small escape when they visit.
“People could spread out, find their trees, stay safe and enjoy that kind of time together with their family, which is so important, I think, and particularly in a time like this,” McCullen said.
After retiring from the Navy, McCullen and his wife took over the farm.
“Our favorite part of being on the farm is, quite honestly, just being outside," he said.
It’s a joy the McCullens were terrified of losing because of Covid-19.
“We weren't sure that people were gonna show up. We were very pleased our first weekend to have probably better than normal weekend. And it's kind of continued to be that way. Even our weekdays, which are typically pretty slow, two or three people here and there, have been fairly steady,” said McCullen.
They did everything they could to make their farm safe: putting up sneeze guards and using social distancing in their store.
The couple was thankful to see the cars fill their parking lot.
“This is one of the best things we come to do, to stay together,” said long-time customer Mike Cassidy.
“I haven’t been to get a tree anywhere else since I’ve been born,” said Cassidy’s daughter, Mariah.
These simple moments of family fun are making sure the McCullen’s legacy can live on.
“It's a huge relief because not only do we have to deal with COVID, but we're a seasonal business. People don't buy Christmas trees year-round, so all of our sales happen in the month of November and December. So, if people didn't show up, oh my gosh, you know, we really would have a hard time surviving," McCullen said.
It’s not just at this farm, demand for Christmas trees is skyrocketing across the country, so much so, that some farms are seeing shortages.
With that jump in demand, comes a jump in price. The National Christmas Tree Association reported Americans will pay an average of 7 percent more for a tree this year than last year, and 23 percent more than they paid in 2018.
But raising prices wasn’t an option at this farm.
“With all the difficulties that everybody has gone through and the stress and the strain that is put on everyone, we just didn't want to add another layer to that. So, what we tried to do was stay as consistent as we could to keep our prices the same so that people could come out and know what to expect when they get here,” said McCullen.
McCullen and his wife made many of the wreaths themselves. They can ship them anywhere in the country, and you can order one HERE. They also made candle holders from fresh fir trees and garland for your home.
“I get a little emotional about it because it's just us. For my wife and I, we don't have children, so our workers the people that are here with us that support us are our family. That's what the emotional piece of it just being able to be, you know, in something together and to be able to create, you know, things that we know people enjoy,” said McCullen.
For those close enough to visit, taking home a Piper Mountain tree is a tradition they won’t miss.
“We love a real Christmas tree,” said Mariah Cassidy. “There’s nothing like it, and coming here always feels like home.”
“And this year would be in memory of my mom, Gaila,” said Matthew Cassidy. “She used to love to come here, and she’s the main reason we keep coming here. We lost her about 3 years ago, and it’s the only way to keep her with us because Christmas was her favorite time of year.”
And for more families than ever, this reminder of happiness, no matter how big or small, is one way to bring the joy of Christmas past into the present.