History of the Christmas Tree
December 18, 2021 8:00:00 AM PST December 18, 2021 8:00:00 AM PSTth, December 18, 2021 8:00:00 AM PST
Plants and trees that remain green all year have always had a special meaning for people in the winter. Long before the advent of Christianity, people all over the world hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows, especially at winter solstice. Many ancient peoples, including the Egyptians, Romans, Vikings and Druids believed winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the solstice by adorning their homes with evergreen boughs, signifying that the sun god would soon recover from illness and summer was sure to return. It’s a classic story of the triumph of life over death and everlasting life.
Modern Christmas Tree Tradition
The Christmas tree tradition as we now know it began in the 16th century when devout Christians in Germany brought decorated trees into their homes. Sometimes the trees were evergreens and sometimes wood pyramids were decorated with evergreens. Martin Luther, a Protestant reformer of the time is credited with being the first to add lighted candles to a tree, which for him recaptures the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens.
Puritan Values Rule in America
As late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans. To the New England Puritans, Christmas is sacred, not worthy of the “pagan mockery” of such frivolous observance. What’s more, Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.” For them, only a church service would do. As early as 1659, the State of Massachusetts actually had a law making any festive observance of December 25 a penal offense. This continues until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants … and the popularity of Queen Victoria undermine puritan sensibility. After the Queen and her German Prince Albert are sketched with their children around a Christmas tree in the Illustrated London News, the tradition became quite fashionable in Britain and with east coast American society.
Popularity of Decorations Rises
By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. While Europeans decorated small trees, Americans liked their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling, decorated mainly with homemade ornaments, apples, berries, nuts, marzipan cookies and popcorn. Finally, electricity allowed Christmas trees to glow with lights for days on end. Nowadays, the giant Christmas tree on display at Rockefeller Center in New York is laden with over 25,000 Christmas lights – and Christmas trees are also a tradition in Canada, Mexico, Greenland, Guatemala, Brazil, Ireland, Norway, Ukraine, Spain, Italy, the Philippines – even China and Japan, in addition to Germany, Britain and the United States.
22 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Christmas Trees
1. Christmas trees have been sold commercially in the United States since about 1850.
2. Christmas tree farms produce 34 to 36 million Christmas trees each year – about 98% of all Christmas trees.
3. Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states including Hawaii and Alaska, with California, Oregon, Michigan, Washington, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina top producing states.
4. More than 1,000,000 acres of land have been planted with Christmas trees.
5. On average, over 2,000 Christmas trees are planted per acre and 77 million are planted each year.
6. Christmas trees generally take six to eight years to mature and most are cut weeks before they are shipped to a retail outlet.
7. In the first week, a Christmas tree in your home will consume as much as a quart of water per day
8. The tallest living Christmas tree is believed to be the 122-foot, 91-year-old Douglas fir in the town of Woodinville, Washington.
9. Between 1887 and 1933, the Christmas Ship, a fishing schooner from Michigan, would tie up at the Clark Street bridge and sell spruce trees to Chicagoans.
10. In 1912, the first community Christmas tree in the United States was erected in New York City.
11. In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony now held every year on the White House lawn.
12. The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition began in 1933. Franklin Pierce, the 14th President, brought the Christmas tree tradition to the White House.
13. In 1963, the National Christmas Tree was not lit until December 22, after the national 30-day period of mourning following the assassination of President Kennedy.
14. Since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association has given a Christmas tree to the President and first family.
15. In 1979, the National Christmas Tree was adorned with one lighted ornament at the top, in honor of the American hostages in Iran.
16. In 1984, when the National Christmas Tree was lit on December 13, temperatures were in the 70s making it one of the warmest tree lightings in history.
17. The Christmas tree industry employs about 100,000 people.
18. Thomas Edison’s assistants came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees.
19. Teddy Roosevelt banned the Christmas tree from the White House for environmental reasons.
20. Tinsel was once banned by the government because it contained lead. Now it’s made of plastic.
21. Never burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace. It can contribute to creosote buildup.
22. In the past, trees such as cherry and hawthorns were also used as Christmas trees.
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