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Christmas tree sales garner lots of green for Catholic groups

First slide

Gripping his candy cane, Casper Church, age 1, surveyed the half-empty Christmas tree lot at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Arlington. On that drizzly Gaudete Sunday, he and his family had come to select a tree. Casper and his older brother and sister frolicked among the trees until promptings from their mother, Erin, coaxed a decision out of the bunch.

Casper Church, 1, and his sister Mariam, 7, survey the Christmas tree lot at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Arlington Dec. 16. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD


Theodore, 4, watched intently as Grand Knight Mike Gilliam noisily sliced the bottom of the trunk with a chain saw. His dad, Peter, clipped a few lower branches. Gilliam, Boy Scout Sean Fitzgerald, who first gifted the children with candy canes, and his mother, Karin, helped carry the tree to the family car and attach it to the roof. On Christmas Eve, the family will decorate the fragrant fir. 

Knights of Columbus councils, Boy Scout troops, Parent-Teacher Organizations and many other groups sell Christmas trees and evergreen wreaths at Catholic churches during the Advent season. Often, that money goes right back into the community in the form of charitable donations. It’s the most profitable fundraiser of the year for the St. Joseph the Worker Knights Council at Our Lady of Lourdes, netting about $10,000, said Knight James Ryan. The PTO of Holy Spirit School in Annandale makes the same amount during their sale, said volunteer Ed Snydstrup. For three weeks’ worth of work, it’s a pretty good deal, he said. 

Preparation for their sale starts in October, said Ryan. They order 350-400 trees from a vendor who transports them from Michigan and North Carolina. The Douglas and Fraser firs arrive a week before Thanksgiving and wait to be sold in a fenced-in lot. The trees stay fresher if the weather stays cold, said Ryan, though the volunteers who man the sale like the weather a little warmer. During sale hours, trees are displayed on wooden stands beneath strings of construction lights. When not helping customers, the volunteers stand by the fire pit or in the small shed, listening to Christmas music on the radio.

The early weekends in December are the busiest, said Ryan. During those times, they aim for more than three volunteers per shift. Knights from St. Rita Church in Alexandria pitch in, too. “It's almost a choreographed effort to make everything run smoothly,” said Ryan. 

Holy Spirit ended its sale of 500 trees Dec. 15. Our Lady of Lourdes will go until Dec. 21, or whenever the trees run out. Toward the end, “it’s obviously not the nicer looking trees, so we ask customers to make a donation to the parish rectory,” said Ryan. “Those who like the Charlie Brown trees are set.”

Working with the school principal, the Holy Spirit PTO usually decides to use money from the sale to replace technology, which becomes outdated quickly, said Snydstrup. The Our Lady of Lourdes Knights spread their money for a host of charitable endeavors: winter coats and meal kits to Christ House in Alexandria, aid to the homeless in Prince William Forest, or buying a new Roman missal for the parish altar. Their second biggest fundraiser is their monthly Sunday breakfast, which has grown to include waffles, potatoes, French toast and an omelet station. Knowing they have the tree sale to fall back on, they’re not as worried about making a profit in what has become a delicious tradition in that pocket of Arlington.

Grand Knight Mike Gilliam carries a Christmas tree before the start of the Sunday morning sale. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD


Both Ryan and Snydstrup have spent years volunteering at Christmas trees sales that predate their involvement by many years. “It’s been there for quite a while,” said Ryan. Young adults who stayed in the area now buy trees at the same place they went as children. He says it’s nice to see the familiar faces and to witness the family dynamics in Christmas tree shopping. “After doing this for a while, you get a good read of personalities —what's going to happen in terms of who picks the tree, husband or wife, and how many trees will they look at before buying one,” said Ryan.

Snydstrup enjoys the joyful spirit that customers bring to the Christmas tree lot. “What’s not to love?” he said. “It smells like Christmas.”

Ryan and his family live a few blocks from the church and often buy their Christmas tree there. One year, Ryan was hoping to get a smaller tree, so he sent his daughter to buy whatever she could carry back to the house. “(I learned I) have to be careful what I say, because she picked out a nice 6-foot Fraser fir,” said Ryan. “She stopped a couple of times, but she got it home.”




© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018