Tradition and Folklore
Historians trace countless sources of tree usage that evolved into our present
day custom of using a Christmas tree. Legends tell of decorated trees used in
winter celebrations long before there was a Christmas.
Egyptians brought green palm branches into their homes in late December as a
symbol of growing things.
Romans trimmed evergreen trees with trinkets and topped them with an image of
their sun god to celebrate Saturnalia.
Druid sourcers hung golden apples and lit candles on oak trees to celebrate
the winter solstice.
In the middle ages, the feast of Adam and Eve was held on December 24th; a fir
tree hung with red apples called a Paradise tree was its symbol.
It is generally agreed, however, that the use of an evergreen tree as part of
the Christian Christmas celebration started 400 years ago in Germany and
spread to most of northern Europe by the 19th Century.
Hessian Mercenaries during the American Revolutionary War brought the custom
to the United States.
In 1804, United States soldiers station at Fort Dearborn (now Chicago) hauled
trees from surrounding woods to their barracks during Christmas.
A German named Charles Minnegerode introduced the custom of decorating trees
in Williamburg, Virginia in 1842. That tree was described as "splendidly
decorated" withstrings of popcorn, gilded nuts and lighted candles.
The first recorded Christmas tree retail lot was set up in 1851 by a
Pennsylanian named Mark Carr who hauled two ox sleds loaded with trees from
his land in the Catskills to the sidewalks of New York.
The first President to set up a Christmas tree in the White House was Franklin
Pierce, the 14th President.
It was not until 1923 that President Calvin Coolidge established the National
Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn that has since become
part of the holiday observance.
The enduring tree symbol--which is even older than Christianity and not
exclusive to any one religion--remains a firmly established part of our
holiday customs, engaging not only our senses of sight, touch ad smell, but
also our sense of tradition, hope and good will.
Originally, the family Christmas tree came from the forest; today over 90% of
the Christmas trees are plantation grown.
Plantation trees are grown in cultivated stands, sheared and prepared to
provide consumers with the best possible trees.
Usually Christmas trees begin life in a nursery where superior seed is planted
and grown to two-year-old seedlings.
The seedlings are taken from the nursery beds and replanted in Christmas tree
plantations. Many are transplanted into beds for another one or two years
before going into a plantation for its final years of development. While
growing, Christmas trees provide many environmental benefits. They replenish
the environment's oxygen supply, serve as wildlife habitat, increase soil
stability and provide a valuable and aesthetically pleasing improvement to the
land, Trees are frequently planted on barren slopes or under power lines where
no other crops will grow.
Each year the young trees are shaped or pruned. By holding back rapid upward
growth, the grower can encourage the tree to branch more quickly, and
gradually achieve the full bushy appearance people prefer in the Christmas
trees. Uneven development may be corrected by shearing or pruning.
During the 4 to 16 years a Christmas tree is growing into a well shaped 6-8
foot tree, it faces many hazards. Trees can suffer from too little or too much
sun or rain, destruction by rodents, insects, disease, hail or fire, and being
overgrown with brush, vines and weeds.
At harvest time, wholesale growers select finished trees by placing tags on
them. The tagged trees are cut, bundled and loaded on trucks and railroad cars
for the journey to any one of thousands of retail lots across the country.
The "choose and cut farm" has helped to renew the tradition of the
entire family selecting and cutting the Christmas tree. Usually a whole field
is not ready for sale in any one year. It often takes three to five years to
clear the field for replanting.
Providing American families with the best Christmas trees that man and nature
can devise is a big job. Most Christmas tree farmers agree it is a good life,
provided you are willing to work year round on a crop that needs tender,
loving care for at least 10 years before it can be sold.