Master Gardener: Some Christmas tree history, traditions

Since I am much older than most of our readers, my tradition of a Christmas tree has changed over the years. Growing up on a farm we went to the woods and cut our own tree. Sometimes it didn’t look much like a Christmas tree, but the spirit was there. We didn’t have electricity, so we decorated with candleholders and candles that could only be lit when we were in the room.

Next came electricity and strings of lights that never worked because I could never find the one bulb that was out, hence the entire string was dead. I often wished I could bring back the candles. Then it went from cutting our own tree to going to town to buy one from the Scouts or whomever. Finally, it meant going to a Christmas tree farm to cut or buy a tree. Now, since the kids have their own families, we have a small artificial tree that we put in the picture window.

Some time ago I cut out an article on Christmas tree traditions that may interest our readers. The tradition of celebrating the holiday season with a real Christmas tree dates back some 500 years.  Approximately 33 million American families will celebrate this holiday season with a fresh, farm-grown Christmas tree.  Evergreen trees symbolize everlasting life, and the aroma of a real Christmas tree evokes strong memories of family traditions and the innocence of childhood.

Much like other crops provide food for the body, the aroma of a farm-grown Christmas tree provides food for the soul. The use of evergreens as a symbol and celebration of life during winter solstice celebrations started in ancient Roman and Egyptian times.

This practice evolved over the centuries to be incorporated in the celebration of Christmas in the Germanic areas of Europe. The first recorded display of a decorated Christmas tree was in 1510, in Riga, Latvia (established by Germans in 1210).

Christmas trees were decorated with fruit, cookies and candy that would later be shared among family members as gifts after the holiday season was over.  By the 1700s, the tradition of celebrating the holidays with a Christmas tree was widely practiced throughout Europe.

Decorations included lace, ribbon, tin, food items and lit candles. The tradition was brought to the United States by Hessian mercenaries during the Revolutionary War. In 1804, U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Dearbom, in Chicago, used evergreen trees in their barracks to celebrate Christmas.

The popularity of the Christmas tree then proliferated. In 1856, Franklin Pierce brought the Christmas tree tradition to the White House. In 1923, Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony now held every year on the White House lawn.

Since 1966, members of the National Christmas Tree Association have presented a beautiful, fresh real Christmas tree to the first family. This tree is displayed in the Blue Room of the White House, filling it with the aroma of life, family traditions and childhood innocence.

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