I decided this week to share a classic article I wrote back in 2014 for John Eric Home Magazine. I was thinking today how important culture and traditions are to us around the world. I hope you enjoy! Mele Kalikimaka!
As the holidays quickly approach and they year comes to a close, we find ourselves opening up our homes to family and friends. One of the highlights of the holidays for me has always been decorating our home and sharing family traditions. The Christmas tree has become the centerpiece of our homes and is a glimpse of the personalities that decorate it. The Christmas tree is one of the most popular and cherished Christmas customs in the world. Each year, 35-40 million live trees are purchased and decorated in the United States alone. But when, where, and how did this custom begin? What is the origin of the Christmas tree? What does it mean?
Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.
Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition. In the 16th century devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Many people built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. It is also a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.
In 1846, the popular royals Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Unlike the previous royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects. What was done at court immediately became fashionable—not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society. The Christmas tree finally made an accepted arrival to the United States of America.
By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. As with most things today, Americans liked their Christmas trees big and bold, reaching from floor to ceiling-quite a contrast to the Europeans who used small trees up to four feet in height.
The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while Eastern European immigrants continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts. Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.
Today, 77 million Christmas trees are planted each year in California, Oregon, Michigan, Washington, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. The top selling trees in the United States are Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir and White Pine. The tallest living Christmas tree is believed to have been a 122-foot, 91 year old Douglas fir from the town of Woodinville, Washington.
Here are notable highlights of the Christmas tree in our nation:
1850- The first Christmas trees were sold commercially in the United States
1853- Franklin Pierce, the 14th president is credited with bringing the first Christmas tree to the White House.
1883-Thomas Edison and Edward H. Jonson assembled the first string of Christmas tree lights
1883- Sears, Roebuck & Company began offering the first artificial Christmas trees – 33 limbs for $.50 and 55 limbs for $1.00.
Late 1800’s- the first glass ornaments was introduced to the United States, again from Germany.
1902-President Theodore Roosevelt chose not have a tree at the White House for environmental reasons.
1903- General Electric offers the first set of pre-assembled Christmas lights.
1923-President Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony now held every year on the White House lawn. The first tree had only 3,000 twinkling electrical lights.
1933- The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition began.
1961-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the White House Christmas tree by decorating with a Nutcracker motif.
1966- The National Christmas Tree Association begins the tradition of gifting a Christmas tree to the President and first family each year.
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.
1971- The FDA concluded that lead tinsel caused an unnecessary risk to children and convinced manufacturers and importers to voluntarily stop producing or importing lead tinsel after January 1972.
1979- The National Christmas Tree was not lighted except for the top ornament. This was done in honor of the American hostages in Iran.
1984- The National Christmas Tree was lit on December 13th with temperatures in the 70s, making it one of the warmest tree lightings in history.
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