SLOAN: Celebrating the Christmas tree
Editor’s Note: Through the month of December, Editor Bob Sloan’s column will focus on the traditional plants and greenery associated with the holidays.
When it comes to holiday decorations, nothing stands taller or shines brighter that the Christmas tree. It is the centerpiece around which all other decorations evolve.
You can get away with not having wreaths, garlands, tinsel, bows, or pretty much any other decoration, but tell someone you’re not putting up a tree and they’ll probably find it unimaginable. The Christmas trees’ roots are firmly planted in the holiday tradition.
Nowadays, people decorate their trees in many ways. There are the standard bulbs and string lights. Add to that tinsel, garlands, and candy canes. Then there are the keepsake ornaments that may have been passed down for generations or the handmade ornaments that hold special meaning.
As a child I remember we would string popcorn and make long, colorful chains out of construction paper and loop them around the tree. We would cut out snowflakes and use bent paper clips to hang them on the branches. One year we even wrote letters to Santa and hung them on the tree.
Themed trees are another very popular option. Mom’s tree was always filled with ornamental birds – bluebirds, robins, orioles, canaries, and of course, doves. A beautiful cardinal was always perched at the top. I can remember years when my family decorated our tree with candy-shaped ornaments and topped it with a pair of huge lollipops. I had one neighbor with a two-story house who always put up two trees. Both of them were covered in angels of all shapes and sizes.
The most important part of the tree, without question, is the topper. A star signifying the birth of Christ would be the most traditional topper. You’re sure to see lots of angels hovering over treetops. Bright red ribbons are also used to tie up the decorations.
No matter how you decorate them, Christmas trees will continue to stand alone atop the holiday “must” list.
Here are some interesting history and facts about the Christmas tree:
• The origin of the Christmas tree dates back in Greco-Roman times when evergreens were used as part of winter solstice celebrations that included feasts and parties. It wasn’t until the 16th century that German Christians began bringing actual evergreen trees into their homes as part of their own winter solstice celebrations. This was due to their longstanding belief that the evergreen tree was a symbol of everlasting life with God.
• Don't be alarmed if you see a tree hanging upside down from the ceiling. This trend actually originated in medieval times, according to The Spruce. Legend goes that a Benedictine monk used the triangle shape of the inverted tree to explain the Holy Trinity to pagans.
• Using small candles to light a Christmas tree dates back to the middle of the 17th century.
• New England Puritans banned Christmas trees in the late 17th century. In 1659, the court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony formally banned any Christmas celebrations aside from a church service, which included the "heathen tradition" of hanging decorations. Christmas trees drew looks of scorn in America for nearly two more centuries, before German and Irish immigrants finally normalized decking the halls in the mid-1800s.
• Thomas Edison's assistant was the first to put electric lights on a Christmas tree. It was Edward Johnson who first thought of putting electric lights on a Christmas tree instead of the traditional candles. The first bulb-lit tree stood in Edison's power plant in Manhattan in 1882, set on a rotating box so that passersby could see all 80 blinking red, white, and blue lights.
• The official Christmas tree tradition at Rockefeller Center began in 1933. Since 2004 the tree has been topped with a 550-pound Swarovski Crystal star. And since 2007, the tree has been lit with 30,000 energy-efficient LEDs, which are powered by solar panels.
• In 1856, Franklin Pierce was the first President to place a Christmas tree in the White House.
• President Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923.
• Teddy Roosevelt banned the Christmas tree from the White House for environmental reasons.
• From 1948 to 1951, President Truman spent Christmas at his home in Independence, Missouri, and lit the National Community Christmas Tree by remote control. Truman agreed to stay at the White House for Christmas 1952, and personally lit the tree.
• 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.
• It was a surprise to onlookers when, during the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in Washington D.C. in 1979, only the star at the top lit up after President Jimmy Carter's daughter Amy threw the switch. The president then announced that the tree would remain unlit throughout the season in honor of the Americans being held captive during the Iran hostage crisis.
• According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 25 to 30 million live trees are harvested annually from a crop of about 350 million trees in farms across the United States. The majority of those trees are grown in two states, Oregon and North Carolina.
• To ensure enough trees for harvest, growers plant one to three seedlings for every tree harvested.
• It takes six to ten years of fighting heavy rain, wind, hail and drought to get a mature tree.
• Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, balsam fir, and white pine are the current most popular choices for Christmas trees.
• Most Christmas trees are cut weeks before they get to a retail outlet. It is important to keep them watered thoroughly when they reach your home. In the first week, a Christmas tree in your home will consume as much as a quart of water per day.
• The first Christmas tree retail lot in the United States was opened in New York in 1851.
• Artificial Christmas trees were developed in Germany during the 19th century and later became popular in the United States. These "trees" were made using goose feathers that were dyed green and attached to wire branches.
Next week: The Christmas Wreath
Contact Editor Bob Sloan at editor@florence newsjournal.com.