TORONTO - For some people it's the smell of cinnamon, peppermint or hot apple cider that reminds them of Christmas. For others it's the smell of pine that fills the house when a real Christmas tree is set up next to a crackling fire.
This year Canadians may be getting nostalgic for that smell, as the country's largest organization representing wholesalers of real Christmas trees reports a 15-per-cent increase in orders from retailers this season over last.
"I think it's because people don't plan to go away because of the recession. They plan to stay at home and have a nice family Christmas," said Lewis Downey, executive director of the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Downey's organization represents approximately 1,500 wholesalers across the country. Wholesalers sell both potted and cut trees.
"Real trees smell good - a real turkey beats canned turkey," said Downey.
According to Statistics Canada, revenues from Christmas tree sales rose in 2008 - returning to a level last seen in 2004. Others in the Christmas tree industry say the 2009 season is on track to continue the upward trend.
"People aren't going to Florida, they're staying at home - it's a nesting thing and we've seen it before in economies like this one," said Doug Drysdale, owner of Drysdale Farms near Toronto.
His farm has been in business since 1945 and operates the largest cut-and-choose farm in the province.
"As trends go we're anticipating about a 10-per-cent increase in business over last year," said Drysdale.
However, artificial trees remain popular, and unlike real trees they now can come pre-decorated with different sizes of LED lights, or flocked with artificial snow.
Among the trees displayed at a Sears store in downtown Toronto this year is an artificial palm tree decorated with golden LED lights.
"The palm tree, people shake their heads when they see it. It's for the quirky and non-traditional," said Cindy Jardim, director of brand development at Sears Canada.
Jardim said sales of artificial trees have been flat so far this season. She said that most people buy their artificial trees in November.
"I still feel that fake is going to go all the way, especially in a tough economy. It really comes down to whether a customer wants to spend $80 to $100 on a real tree that's only going to last that week or two versus a tree they're going to have for many, many years for their families to enjoy," said Jardim.
At Sears the mid-point price for an artificial tree is $300 fully lit.
One customer browsing the artificial tree selection at Sears wasn't convinced.
"I came to check them out, but I like the smell of real trees," said Adrian Obusan.
There's also the issue of allergies.
"I love the smell of Christmas trees, but they make me sneeze, so I have no choice but to buy a fake one," said Carla Burns as she checked out the artificial trees available at the department store.
On its website, Statistics Canada says the story goes that the Christmas tree tradition was introduced here in 1781 when a balsam fir cut from forest in the region of what is now Sorel-Tracy, Que., was decorated with white candles.