Few things make me happier at holiday time than, in the midst of my frenzied errands, passing through a sidewalk Christmas-tree stall and being enveloped for a few moments in the tingly, prickly, resinous redolence of a pine forest.


Vendors—many seasonal immigrants from Europe and Canada—make the stalls their own despite the similarity of their wares. There are seats made from folding chairs or upturned buckets; sawhorse footrests; shelters ranging from plywood-and-tarp lean-tos to heated RVs parked curbside; ornaments as elaborate as inflatable Santa Clauses and carols fizzling from a portable tape deck to a simple string of lights; and offerings from just trees to handcrafts fashioned by the vendors themselves: twig reindeer, candleholders made of tree stumps, homemade ornaments, even the obligatory menorah.

Every stand has the magical steel tree-wrapper, which cloaks the tree in a straitjacket of nylon mesh for its trip home on woolen shoulders or on the roof of a car or alongside red-cheeked children in a little red wagon. At night, and even sometimes during the day, strands of Christmas lights glow from street corners, and the red bows of wreaths hang from chain-link fences alongside tables of tinsel icicles, spray snow, simple tree balls and tree-top stars, small potted fir trees and poinsettias, Santa hats, boxes of lights, and, of course, tree-disposal bags (despite a prohibition from the Department of Sanitation).

During one of the most crowded and frantic seasons in the city, these momentary, fragrant winter wonderlands—just a few squares of city sidewalk–offer a welcome respite.