By Fran Lane

The Christmas tree is one of the holiday’s most celebrated decorations. But where did this custom come from?

The fir tree has a long association with Christianity. Almost a thousand years ago, St. Boniface, who converted the German people to Christianity, came across a group of pagans worshipping an oak tree. In anger, it is said he cut down the oak tree and to his amazement a young fir tree sprung up from the roots of the oak tree. St. Bonifice took this as a sign of the Christian faith.

In the late Middle Ages, Germans and Scandinavians placed evergreen trees inside their homes to show their anticipation of spring. Our modern Christmas tree evolved from these early traditions. It is said Martin Luther began the tradition of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas. Walking through snow covered woods on Christmas Eve, around the year 1500, he was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their snow dusted branches shimmered in the moonlight. As soon as he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share the story with his children. He decorated it with lit candles in honor of Christ’s birth.

The Christmas tree tradition most likely came to the United States with Hessian troops during the American Revolution, or with German immigrants to Pennsylvania and Ohio. The tradition spread slowly. The Puritans banned Christmas in New England. Even as late as 1851, a Cleveland minister nearly lost his job because he allowed a tree in his church.

The Christmas tree market was born in 1851 when Mark Carr, a Catskill farmer, hauled two ox sleds of evergreens into New York City and sold them all. Decorations were still of a ‘home-made’ variety. Young Ladies spent hours at Christmas Crafts, quilting snowflakes and stars, sewing little pouches for secret and paper baskets with sugared almonds in them. Small bead decorations, fine drawn out silver tinsel came from Germany together with beautiful Angels to sit at the top of the tree. Candles were often placed into wooden hoops for safety. By 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree. Twenty years later the custom was universal.

Christmas tree farms sprang up during the depression as nurserymen couldn’t sell their evergreens for landscaping, so they cut them for Christmas trees. Cultivated trees were preferred because they have a more symmetrical shape.

Six species account for about 90% of the nation’s Christmas trees. Scotch pine ranks first with about 40% of the market, followed by Douglas fir with about 35%. The other big sellers are noble fir, balsam fir, white pine, and white spruce. Happy Holidays! Fran


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