Recession means smaller Christmas tree

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - November 18, 2009

This year's tree is about 30-feet tall and doesn't even reach the top of the Confederate soldiers' monument on the capitol's front lawn.

"We're like nonprofits and other groups everywhere. We've got to be a little more careful with our money," said Jane Suggs with the Columbia Garden Club, which has been putting up the tree along one of the city's busiest streets for several years.

This year's white fir costs about half as much as last year's tree and came from a farm in Pennsylvania, instead of the North Carolina business which has supplied the trees in recent years.

Crews worked Tuesday to string lights on the tree, which was delivered the day before. The arrival caused its own problem. The seller wrapped the tree in netting like one bought from a common tree farm. When crews cut the packaging, branches broke off everywhere, leaving big bare patches on the bottom.

"We've got a tree in our yard that we've ran over a couple of times and it looks better than that," said Will Stephens of Pelion, who came to take pictures of the tree with his wife after hearing it was looking a little raggedy.

The height of the tree also creates a uniquely South Carolina touch. To anyone driving or walking down Main Street a few blocks from the Statehouse, it looks like the tree is topped with the Confederate soldier that sits atop the monument behind it.

"That's a little disturbing," said Kay McCrary of Columbia, who snapped a picture of the tree on her cell phone to post on her Facebook page.

But the decorators have some Christmas magic planned. The garden club will take a number of small trees and fill in the base of the big Christmas tree, and they will also put large presents in front of the tree.

Most people walking by the tree on a balmy fall afternoon said the Christmas spirit trumps the look of the tree.

"The size and shape of the tree didn't matter to Charlie Brown," Paul McCormick said. "Why should it matter to us?"

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