O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree …
We all know the song, but do we know that there are 25 – 30 million real Christmas trees sold in the United States every year. And currently there are an additional 350 million trees growing on Christmas tree farms in this country on approximately 350,000 acres of green land. We will get back to some more fun facts in a moment, but where did this industry get its start? An industry that supports 15,000 Christmas tree farms and employs over 100,000 full and part-time people. (Full disclosure: you can not plant a gift tree on a Christmas tree farm with The Gifted Tree, but we do plant in 30+ countries.)
The History of the Christmas Tree
The history of the Christmas Tree stretches back over 2,000 years, and according to historian Deemer Cass of the London-based Fantastic Gardeners, Christians weren’t the first to admire and decorate Christmas trees. Pagans used to worship evergreen trees as a symbol of fertility. Plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.
According to History.com, Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition, as we now know it, in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.
How did the tradition come to America?
Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.
In 1846, History.com reports that the popular royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Unlike the previous royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at court immediately became fashionable—not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society.
The Christmas tree had arrived.
By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. It was noted that Europeans used small trees about four feet in height, while Americans liked their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling.
The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts. Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.
Christmas tree fun facts
It can take as many as 15 years to grow a tree of typical height (6 – 7 feet) or as little as 4 years, but the average growing time is 7 years.
Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states including Hawaii and Alaska. The top Christmas Tree producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington.
The tallest living Christmas tree is believed to be the 122-foot, 91-year-old Douglas fir in the town of Woodinville, Washington.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition began in 1931 but had humble beginnings. According to The New York Times, the tradition started during the Great Depression when construction workers put up a mere 20-foot tree in the plaza and decorated it with paper garlands, strings of cranberries, and tin cans. Today, a Norway spruce no taller than 100 feet is chosen every year, is laden with over 25,000 Christmas lights and topped with a Swarovski crystal star that weighs more than 9,000 pounds.
Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, brought the Christmas tree tradition to the White House. While in 1923, President Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony now held every year on the White House lawn.
Since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association has given a Christmas tree to the President and first family.
77 million Christmas trees are planted each year, and on average, over 2,000 Christmas trees are planted per acre.
Other types of trees such as cherry and hawthorns were used as Christmas trees in the past.
Thomas Edison’s assistants came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees instead of traditional candles. It stood in Edison’s power plant in Manhattan, set on a rotating box so that passersby could see all 80 blinking red, white, and blue lights. In 1882, no one had seen anything like it.
In 1963, the National Christmas Tree was not lit until December 22nd because of a national 30-day period of mourning following the assassination of President Kennedy. In 1979, the National Christmas Tree was not lighted except for the top ornament. This was done in honor of the American hostages in Iran.
Teddy Roosevelt banned the Christmas tree from the White House for environmental reasons. Realize that Christmas trees are a home to a lot of insects and microorganisms, so when you bring one home, make sure you shake it thoroughly before bringing it inside.
In the first week, a tree in your home will consume as much as a quart of water per day.
Christmas trees were once hung upside down like chandeliers, and that custom is still common in parts of Europe.
In 1984, the National Christmas Tree was lit on December 13th with temperatures in the 70s, making it one of the warmest tree lightings in history.
The best-selling trees are Scotch Pine, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir and White Pine, although the Nordmann Fir is considered the leader among Christmas trees. The Nordmann Fir has been a popular Christmas tree choice in Europe for a number of years and is gaining momentum in the United States. It’s preferred among other evergreens due to its excellent needle retention, the softness of the needles and how it’s perfect for people with allergies. The tree’s lack of the usual Christmas tree aroma makes it ideal for those who can’t tolerate the fragrance, according to HolidayTreeFarm.com.
Real vs. artificial Christmas trees.
If you prefer an artificial tree, you’re not alone. This option is cheaper and lower maintenance. Artificial trees date back to the 1880s, when Germans looking to offset deforestation made the first ones from dyed goose feathers held together with wire. Since then, people around the world have made fake trees out of aluminum, cardboard, and glass, although most artificial Christmas trees sold today are made from PVC plastic with about 80% made in China.
Unfortunately, most fake trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and possible metal toxins such as lead. Real Trees are a renewable, recyclable resource and are grown for the purpose of being a Christmas tree. “You’re not doing any harm by cutting down a Christmas tree,” Clint Springer, a botanist and professor of biology at Philadelphia’s Saint Joseph’s University, told The New York Times in a recent interview. “A lot of people think artificial is better because you’re preserving the life of a tree. But in this case, you’ve got a crop that’s being raised for that purpose.”
There are also more than 4,000 local Christmas Tree recycling programs throughout the United States. And the trees have been used to make sand and soil erosion barriers and placed in ponds to provide shelter for fish. Just don’t burn them in your fireplace as the soot can be bad for your chimney.
Whichever type of tree you choose, just be safe. Christmas trees have, on average, started 160 house fires per year. We want everyone to relax, enjoy and spend some good quality time with the family this holiday season. Happy Holidays from The Gifted Tree!