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Supply and Demand, and Christmas Trees

We usually leave it late to buy our Christmas tree. For the second year running we did it on the Saturday before Christmas (23 December last year, 22 December this year), £15 for a healthy-looking 7-foot fir, or spruce, or whatever it is. I expected to pay more, but that’s all it was. One year, when the children were both still at primary school, we bought one from a place that was paying a small percentage of the proceeds to the school’s equivalent of the PTA. It cost £60, and it shed its leaves in the way that trees used to before the 1990s, a little pile of needles collecting on the floor every time the living-room door was opened and closed.

We spent yesterday afternoon decorating our new, bargain-priced tree. Once the lights had been disentangled and wound all the way round, from the angel at the top to the branches at the bottom, my daughter did most of the work. I was a little distracted by the 1.30pm kick-off from Villa Park. Leeds United, 2-0 down at half-time, came back to win 3-2 in injury time to stay top of the Championship. That’s the main thing I wanted from Santa this year. In each of the last 10 seasons the team at the top of the table on Christmas Day has been promoted to the Premier League. I hope that this tradition continues for at last one more season. In the Premier League itself Liverpool sit 4 points clear at the top. Their fans will be similarly encouraged. Most years the team leading the way at Christmas goes on to win the title. The last time it didn’t happen, and the only time in the last 10 seasons (Liverpool fans probably know this already) was in 2013/14. Liverpool were top at Christmas and finished second. Here’s a better omen for Jurgen Klopp’s team: the last time Leeds were promoted from the second tier (in 1990) was also the last time Liverpool won England’s top division.

While driving back with our tree on Saturday afternoon I discussed with my son the idea of supply and demand and pricing. If we waited till Sunday would our tree have been only £10? Would it have been just £5 on Christmas Eve? If we waited until 27 December we could pick up a few of them for nothing, but that wouldn’t be much good to us. We always leave it late to get the house decorated for Christmas, but everything stays in place until the morning of 6 January. There are plenty of other people who strip and dump their trees the day after St Stephen’s Day (or Boxing Day if you prefer). We know this because there’s always a few left out on local pavements in the days before New Year’s Eve, their branches still green, the needles still intact. By early January there are scores of them, and by 6 January itself the collection point at a nearby park has hundreds of them, waiting to be carted off to Christmas Tree Heaven. Greenery that cost tens of thousands of pounds in the weeks leading up to 25 December has no value in the first week of January.

I discussed this further with my daughter yesterday afternoon. I asked if she had heard of lastminute.com, and if she was familiar with what the website was all about. She hadn’t and she wasn’t. She was born in 2006, eight years after the company was founded and six years after it was floated on the London Stock Exchange. It caught the public imagination, as you may remember, with its offer of last-minute bargains in entertainment and travel. All those unsold theatre tickets, empty seats on aeroplanes and vacant hotel rooms that have no value after the show has started, after the plane has taken off, or the morning afterwards. As a family we have rarely been able to take advantage of last-minute deals but at least our Christmas tree feels like a bargain. In theory hundreds of trees will be available for free in just a few days’ time, littering our streets. But by then it will be too late.



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