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Musings about Christmas trees and their roots

Posted on December 19, 2017 | Comments

Decorated trees are everywhere during the holidays. While it seems that Christmas trees might be a more recent custom, for thousands of years they were used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian). People adorned their homes with branches during the winter solstice in anticipation of the spring to come.

The Scandinavian Vikings thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder. The first written record of a decorated Christmas tree comes from Riga, Latvia in 1510. Men of the local merchants’ guild decorated a tree with artificial roses, danced around it in the marketplace and then set fire to it. However, Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.

There are close to 15,000 farms growing Christmas Trees in the U.S., and over 100,000 people are employed full or part-time in the industry. It can take as many as 15 years to grow a 6-7 foot tree or as little as 4 years, but the average growing time is 7 years. About 1500 trees are grown on an acre.

Evergreen trees used for decorating include Noble, Spruce, Scotch pine and a variety of fir trees such as Fraser and Douglas. Each has different characteristics.  A Concolor Fir is best known for its soft, blue-green needles and smells like oranges when it’s first brought into the home. The largest pine in the U.S. is the White pine with its soft, flexible needles and bluish-green color. They have good needle retention but very little aroma. They aren’t recommended for heavy ornaments either. Scotch pines are known for their excellent needle retention and hold up well throughout the season. It resists drying and if permitted to become dry does not drop its needles. Fraser Firs are thought of as the “Cadillac” of Christmas trees. They have the best needle retention and great smell, but are generally priced higher than other species. The branches of Frasers are commonly more “open” and are quite strong, making them a good choice for ornaments.

The history and types of Christmas trees are pretty straight forward. Picking out a tree is a whole different story. For some it’s stressful—checking out multiple tree lots trying to find that “perfect” tree. Others make it a fun family outing or in my case, go with the first one I pick up, imperfections and all. It is a perfect reminder of the reason for the season—acceptance, kindness, love, and peace. Happy holidays!




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