Christmas trees a centuries-old tradition

December 18, 2007|By JEFF SEMLER

Ah Christmas, it makes every one conjure up a memory and I trust it is a pleasant one. At least one of those memories will include a Christmas tree and while many folks don't normally think of trees and farming, 98 percent of all Christmas trees are grown on tree farms. I can only assume the other two percent are harvested from the wild.

Any tree can be a Christmas tree, but the evergreen has been the predominant tree used in most of the world.

Sixteenth-century folklore credits Martin Luther as being the first to decorate an indoor tree. After a walk through a forest of evergreens with shining stars overhead, Luther tried to describe the experience to his family and showed them by bringing a tree into their home and decorating it with candles.

The first record of Christmas trees in America was for children in the German Moravian Church's settlement in Bethlehem, Pa., on Christmas 1747. Actual trees were not decorated, but wooden pyramids covered with evergreen branches were decorated with candles.


The custom of the Christmas tree was introduced in the United States during the Revolutionary War by Hessian troops. An early account tells of a Christmas tree set up by American soldiers at Fort Dearborn, Ill., the site of Chicago, in 1804. Most other early accounts in the United States were among the German settlers in eastern Pennsylvania.

Franklin Pierce was the first president to introduce the Christmas tree to the White House in 1856 for a group of Washington Sunday school children. The first national Christmas tree was lighted in 1923 on the White House lawn by President Calvin Coolidge. As time passed, the decorations, as well as the number of trees, increased. In 1958, first lady Mamie Eisenhower had 27 decorated Christmas trees in the White House. Then, in the 1960s, the "theme" Christmas trees appeared in the White House and each year the press anxiously awaits news of the latest theme to be used by the current White House couple.

There are approximately 30 million to 35 million real Christmas trees sold in the U.S. every year. Those trees are grown on about 500,000 acres in the U.S., with each acre providing the daily oxygen requirements of 18 people. There are about 21,000 Christmas tree growers in the U.S., and more than 100,000 people are employed full- or part-time in the industry.

On the typical Christmas tree farm, more than 2,000 trees are usually planted per acre. On an average, 1,000 to 1,500 will survive. In the North, maybe 750 trees will remain. Almost all trees require shearing to attain the Christmas tree shape. At six to seven feet, trees are ready for harvest. It takes six to 10 years of fighting heavy rain, wind, hail and drought to get a mature tree.

While any evergreen can be used, the best selling trees are Scotch pine, Douglas fir, noble fir, Fraser fir, Virginia pine, balsam fir and white pine.

If you are one of those folks who have a real Christmas tree, I hope you will take the following steps to keep your tree and your family safe during this Christmas season:

1. Displaying trees in water is the most effective way of maintaining their freshness and minimizing needle loss problems.

2. In selecting a tree, make sure that the "handle" at the bottom is long enough to allow the trunk to fit into you tree stand. Otherwise, it will be necessary to remove large branches near the base, which could ruin its appearance.

3. Make a fresh cut to remove a one-quarter-inch to one-inch thick disk of wood from the base of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. Make the cut perpendicular to the stem axis. Don't cut the trunk at an angle, or into a V-shape, which makes it far more difficult to hold the tree in the stand and also reduces the amount of water available to the tree. If you use a "center pin" stand, make sure the hole is drilled in the stem after it is trimmed.

4. Once home, place the tree in water as soon as possible. Most species can go six to eight hours after cutting the trunk and still take up water. Don't bruise the cut surface or get it dirty.

5. If needed, trees can be temporarily stored for several days in a cool location. Place the freshly cut trunk in a bucket that is kept full of water. The tree may need to be supported in some manner to keep if from tipping over.

6. To display the trees indoors, use a stand with an adequate water holding capacity for the tree. As a general rule, stands should provide one quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Devices are available that help maintain a constant water level in the stand.

7. Keep displayed trees away from sources of heat (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, direct sunlight). Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process, resulting in less water consumption each day.

8. The temperature of the water used to fill the stand is not important and does not affect water uptake.

The Herald-Mail Articles