In an age when time and feet are at a premium, two holiday staples are now only a phone call away. Yes, Virginia, the Christmas tree and St. Nick are joining the ranks of pepperoni pizza and chicken chow mein.
The latest entry to the delivery service boom, Woodstock Farm Nursery in Ellicott City, is offering countians the opportunity to shop at home from a selection of up to five trees delivered to the door.
"We thought that people don't have time to go out," said Alice Bender, 51, owner of the nursery. "They seem to be so busy.
"I thought of what we could do to help the customer, especially the elderly who have trouble lugging trees. Then I read about this being done in other parts of the country."
For $5, the nursery will show its wares anywhere in Columbia, Ellicott City and Elkridge. Bender will deliver as far as Laurel and Catonsville, but home shoppers should expect to pay more for deliveries outside the county.
Most deliveries, which can require several days' notice, are scheduled from 6 to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week, through Dec. 22.
Shoppers who know what typeof tree they want get a choice of
three from that species. "If they're not sure, we'll bring a variety -- up to five," Bender said -- all cut to a height the customer specifies.
Most shoppers know what they want, she said. "People are very dedicated to their tree. Theyusually buy whatever they grew up with in their house."
Cathleen Reilly, a quality assurance manager for HMSS in Columbia, was only sure that she wanted a full tree, about 5 feet high. But within 15 minutes, she, her mother, daughter and two grandchildren had selected a Douglas fir out of the four Scotch pines and firs in her front yard.
"I travel for a living; I hardly see the kids," Reilly said. "So, instead of spending the whole night looking for the tree, we could spend the night decorating it."
Nor do parents have to spend the night in line at crowded shopping malls with crying kids in tow for the annual visit with Santa.
As part of its holiday community project, the Elkridge Area Jaycees will arrange for Kris Kringle and a prerequisite elf to visit homes or parties in Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties -- for a donation to the John Hopkins Children's Center.
"Mothers tell us some kids are afraid (to visit Santa at the malls) and that it helps to be in their own home," chapter President Cindy Nicewarner said.
Visits, which may be scheduled on weekends or evenings, are generally arranged so that Santa can do three in a row.The visits vary from 30 to 45 minutes, she said.
The Jaycees alsoask questions about the number of children (so Santa can bring the right number of candy canes) and whether there are any special problems, such as a child who might be a little scared.
This is the program's second year. "Everybody loves this project," she said. "It's so much fun. They can spend time with the kids and see their reaction. We never have trouble getting people to sign up for it."
Nicewarner's husband, Steve, 29, who is the membership vice president, is returning for his second year as Santa, along with first-timers Marty Niessner, 29, community affairs vice-president, and Craig Tolly, 24, a new member.
Female members dress as elves.
The Jaycees set no rate for the visits. Contributions averaged $10 to $15 last year.
"Wedon't want to turn anybody away that can't afford it," Nicewarner said. "Whatever people can afford to give -- we accept that."
Nicewarner suggests calling 379-8066 soon: Santa's schedule gets pretty full this time of year.
And don't bother mixing up any reindeer chow or cleaning out the chimney.
"The elf drives Santa in a pickup truck," Nicewarner said. "Then he knocks at the door."