The weather has finally cooled and the leaves are changing color. Best of all, the joy of the Christmas season is upon us. In the Northern hemisphere, the Arctic air travels south bringing ice and snow. The nights are long and the days short. In Texas, many celebrate the reprieve from Summer's heat. In colder climes, the snow covers the landscape muting color and sound for months. A silence fills the land. In ancient times, evergreen trees were honored during the winter solstice. Long before Christ, boughs of fir and pine adorned the homes of our ancestors. The green branches were a symbol of the Sun and the return of spring.
Winter Wreath by Jez-Timms at Unsplash
How did the Christmas Tree tradition begin? The first decorated tree to honor Christmas is from Germany. Martin Luther of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century is credited with lighting a tree with candles. According to legend, he was walking home one evening and noticed the twinkling stars through the trees. Excited to show his family the beautiful scene, he cut down a fir tree and took it home. Once inside he carefully placed small candles among the branches as a symbol of the beautiful Christmas sky.
The first Christmas tree is believed to represent the beauty of the night sky. Photo by Filip Bunkens, Unsplash
Another legend of the time combines 2 popular customs throughout Europe; The Paradise Tree often decorated with apples symbolizing the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and a pyramid frame built from wood. The pyramid shape, similar to a stable, represented the holy family and the birth of Jesus. The frame was decorated and a candle placed on top to symbolize Christ bringing Light to the world. (Italians today still decorate a wooden triangular structure referred to as a "presepio" or "ceppo" for Christmas.) Over time the 2 customs of the Paradise Tree and the decorated stable merged, possibly due to Martin Luther's lighted tree. Whatever the exact origins of the first decorated Christmas Tree, it is believed to have started in Germany. Even the popular Christmas carol, 'O Tannenbaum', is the German term for 'fir tree'.
Lighted Christmas Trees by Annie Spratt at Unsplash
The first German settlers arriving in America brought their Christmas customs. German communities reportedly had Christmas trees as early as 1747, but many Americans of the time did not accept the tradition and the trees were seen as pagan symbols. Some states outlawed the custom and people were fined for hanging decorations. In the 19th century, a wave of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan sentiment. The decorated Christmas Tree became fashionable in 1846 when the popular British Royals, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert (German) and their children, were sketched in a London News Illustration around a decorated Christmas tree.
By the 1890's ornaments were arriving from Germany and the Christmas tradition was on the rise. In the early 20th century, Americans decorated with homemade ornaments and candles. Christmas trees gained so much popularity that commercial vendors were cutting down trees at alarming rates from natural forests. In 1901, President and conservationist Theodore Roosevelt refused to have a Christmas tree in the White House to protest deforestation. As a result, Christmas tree farming began. Today, over 95% of all Christmas trees are grown on farms. It takes nearly 10 years to harvest a tree 6-8 feet tall. Most Christmas trees are cut months before they reach the vendor.
Christmas trees bundled for shipping.
Noble Fir, the perfect Christmas tree waiting for a home.
The most popular trees are Scotch or Virginia pine and Douglas, Noble or Fraser fir. There are approximately 15,000 tree farms growing over 300 million trees on 350,000 acres. Although there are many concerns about cutting trees down for the holidays, Christmas tree cultivation provides habitat for wildlife, oxygen for the atmosphere and reduces pollen and pollution in the air. A much cleaner choice than the manufactured lead and plastic fake trees.
This Christmas we hope everyone celebrates the joy of the season with family and loved ones. Merry Christmas Ya'll.
Cover photograph of Christmas Tree by Jezwin Thomas at Unsplash.com