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How the City Council Saved Christmas

Every year people grumble that Christmas comes earlier and earlier. Christmas music before thanksgiving? Christmas shopping before the weather changes? Christmas trees before December? Well for all you grinches out there, we have some news that will make you squeal with glee. Grace Ashford reports.

ASHFORD 1: I have a confession to make. I bought a Christmas tree during the month of November. I’m not proud of it. But when I saw them standing there all squished together like a forest crammed into a subway car I couldn’t help myself. At the time I thought it was merely embarrassing – maybe a little tacky. It wasn’t until later, that I found out it might actually be illegal (19s)

BAYOR 1: It does have, it does have a context, and the context is… (5s)

ASHFORD 2: That’s Dr. Ronald Bayor, Emeritus professor at Georgia Tech University. To understand what’s wrong with my November tree we need to go all the way back to 1938 and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (9s).

BAYOR 2: La Guardia was a very stubborn guy. He didn’t back off. La Guardia decided he wanted to clean up the streets of New York, and that partly meant getting rid of all the pushcarts peddlers. He also removed the organ grinders from New York City because he felt it besmirched his Italian background (16s)

ASHFORD 3: Banning pushcarts meant cracking down on all unlicensed street vendors – including the ones that sold Christmas trees (5s)

BAYOR 3: Well, newspapers made a big deal about it, people got upset… (3s)

ASHFORD 4: So the City Council convened and came up with a nifty little trick to stop La Guardia and save Christmas! That trick is the so-called “coniferous tree exception.” What’s coniferous tree you might ask? They’re the ones with pine cones. You know, like Christmas trees. (11s)

BAYOR 4: City council overrode him– they allowed coniferous trees to be sold on the street only in December (8s).

ASHFORD 5: Catch that? He said only in December (2.5s)

BAYOR 5: Back in the 30’s Christmas definitely didn’t start until after thanksgiving (5s).

ASHFORD 6: But this year vendors started building shelters as early as the second week of November (4)

AMBI: jingle jingle.. (2s)

ASHFORD 7: Meet Ben Sellar, who sell Christmas trees at the corner of 204th and Broadway.

SELLAR 1: These are balsam firs on this end. (2)

ASHFORD 8: He’s been in the tree business for the past 7 years (5.5s)

SELLAR 2: Over here we have Frasier firs, they tend to last a little longer… (9)

ASHFORD 9: Bill has never had trouble selling before December 1st. In fact he’s never even heard of the coniferous tree exception (5s)

SELLAR 3: No, ah… no (3s).

ASHFORD 10: The only authorization Ben has is a certificate of Temporary Authority. It allows him to make taxable sales in the State of New York. A lot of stands don’t even have that.

So what’s the deal with this coniferous tree exception? I looked it up and its still on the books. NYC Administrative code Title 19 Section 136. But is anyone in charge of enforcing it? To find out I called the Department of Consumer Affairs (11s)

AMBI: Ring ring (2s)

ASHFORD 11: They wouldn’t speak on the phone but a representative from the press office confirmed, “there are restrictions that apply in Title 19 of the NYC Administrative code.” When I asked for more information, then they referred me to the Department of Transportation. The Department of Transportation, in turn, told me to be in contact with the Department of Consumer Affairs. Which I think might be an answer in and of itself.

Maybe nobody’s enforcing this rule because nobody knows whose job it is to enforce. Maybe, nobody really cares. Either way, now that its December you are all free to get any tree you want – so long as you’re strong enough to drag up to your 5th floor walkup. For Columbia Radio News, I’m Grace Ashford (30s)

Grace is a New York based writer and journalist, originally from Los Angeles, currently studying at Columbia Journalism school. Her writing has been featured on, and her website Follow her on twitter @gr_ashford.


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