They Steal Christmas Trees, Don't They?

Xmas trees
Photo: Photo Illustration: iStockphoto

It’s that time of year again. Pine trees have sprung up along the sidewalks like forests on the concrete and asphalt, and although most of the trees are appraised and bought by happy homemakers, some meet a darker fate. Yes, in the criminal-justice system, there is one seasonal crime that is considered especially heinous: Christmas-Tree Thievery. It's an issue that plagues sellers, who often work alone or with a partner, with a large, difficult-to-keep-track-of stock, year after year, and dealing with the misappropriation of trees has become as much part of the job as enduring the sleet, snow, and rain. But although they have come up with a few ways to foil potential tree-snatchers (tying together those trees out of the stand operator’s view, or, for the more well-to-do, setting up an elaborate network of surveillance cameras), thievery still abounds. Surprisingly, one operator on Avenue A reported, most trees disappear during the day, although there are occasions of alcohol-emboldened theft that happen after dark. Danny Velastegui, a tree seller who works at a stand on Essex Street, described a scene in which his colleague spied a man, “probably drunk,” helping himself to a pinecone, festively spray-painted and covered in glitter, before hailing a cab. He chased the man to the car, demanding payment, but the thief got away with his prize. For Velastegui and his comrades, for whom trees are their livelihood, tree-stealing is an abomination. “It’s like stealing a cross,” he said, mournfully. “What are you going to do, pray to it?” —Ellen Moynihan