Here’s a history of Christmas trees and tips on how to pick the right one
Nov 23, 2023, 3:00 PM | Updated: 4:44 pm
We don’t think a year has passed without us talking a little bit about Christmas trees during the holidays. And, why not? The decorated evergreen has been around for a really long time. Ancient peoples, Egyptians, for example, used the evergreen boughs to celebrate the winter solstice.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, the first decorated tree was recorded in Riga, Latvia, in 1510.
In America, the tree started becoming a fixture in the early 1800s, having been introduced by German immigrants. It wasn’t until the 1850s that our beloved Christmas trees began their commercial debut.
White House History says the first known Christmas tree in the White House was placed upstairs in the Second Floor Oval Room (then used as a family parlor and library) in 1889 (during the Benjamin Harrison administration). It was decorated with candles for the Harrison grandchildren.
As an iconic symbol of the season, our trees take on thousands of different looks across the country. Do you remember the Arizona icon, “Scrubby,” the decorated Juniper tree just north of Sunset Point on I-17? Tragically, a wildfire took that symbol of hope and mystery from us a few years ago. We thought it would be fun to have a slightly different look at this symbol this time of year.
Each year, the elusive “powers that be” select a color type for the Christmas theme. Nearly every company that deals with color, from paint to clothing to decorations, puts out its own color of the year. We all know and associate traditional Christmas colors as red and green. The origins of using those colors are attributed to the holly plant with its red berries. This plant was used as a symbol of hope during the winter by the Celts and probably by hundreds of other cultures, as well.
How trees are decorated has changed over the years. When first introduced to America, the common practice was to adorn the tree with fruits, nuts, and other confections. That practice is not as common now, as we tend to put up a tree several weeks before Christmas Day. The fruit might not make it that long. In modern times, we tend to use ornaments both handmade by family members and handmade ornaments sold commercially, as well as mass-produced ornaments. In Arizona, a common theme is the cactus-shaped ornaments that seem to be indigenous to our home state. Most Arizona-themed ornaments have a cactus. Arizona Highways sells many beautiful ornaments.
Electric lights have thankfully replaced a candle for tree lighting. Single-color, multi-color, incandescent, and LED lights are available to make our Christmas trees come alive with strings of lights wrapped around the tree in patterns or randomly attached. Once the string is untangled (an awesome test of patience), the head decorator will decide!
Decorating trees can be a lot of fun. Having a theme for the decorations can make the planning and the decorating process exciting.
Choosing your theme might take some planning. Themes vary in color, where lights and ornaments can match, or you choose your favorite Christmas story as a theme. We spent some time surfing around for ideas to share with y’all. We landed on a site called Jolly Festive. We had no idea of the breadth of creativity possible for decorating a Christmas tree.
Themes revolve around a tree decorated with consistent types of adornment, whether color, style, or lighting, and may or may not be carried throughout the home. Telling a story with your decorations can be quite a bit of fun. People collect ornaments from their travels, others, their favorite sports teams, cartoon characters, and so on. The sky’s the limit!
Best Live Trees
We have always wondered what the most popular evergreen is for a Christmas tree.
Before getting into that, and being Arizona folk, let’s acknowledge that some of us use desert vegetation instead of evergreen. Witness the giant tumbleweed tree in Chandler. That being said, let’s look at the more traditional tree types. We turned to the National Christmas Tree Association to learn more. Just about every possible species of evergreen tree has been and still is used as a Christmas tree. The most popular come from the fir family, with Balsam, Douglas, and Noble firs being the more popular types.
Trees are commonly grown on tree farms and, like many other crops, are harvested when they reach a certain height and maturity. Tree species are chosen for their conical shape, ability to retain their needles, and their fragrance. How many of us still associate the smell of a tree with our own Christmas traditions?
No discussion of “Christmas Trees 101” would be complete without the artificial Christmas tree. Millions and millions of households across the globe have an artificial tree as their holiday centerpiece.
Historically, since the 1850s, trees were randomly harvested in our American forests. Around the 1880s to 1890s, those random trees were becoming scarce, and the artificial tree was introduced. There are benefits from a conservation perspective, and they can be quite realistic, or represent a theme, as mentioned earlier.
An additional convenience is not having to shop for a tree every year and maintaining them during the display season is simpler.
We have written several articles about caring for your Christmas Tree. Let’s reiterate some of those safety tips here:
· Keep your tree base in water. A couple inches should do. Check the water every day.
· Feel the needles. Are they moist and staying connected to the branches? Dry trees can catch fire, and they will burn VERY quickly.
· Keep the tree and anything flammable at least three feet away from any open flame; fireplaces and candles included.
· Check all electrical connections around the tree, particularly the lights. A short can ignite a fire.
· Make sure the lights you use do not get too hot. Proper tree lights are typically designed for trees to prevent this issue. Be skeptical of discount Christmas lights and make sure they have a product safety testing logo, either from Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) or Intertek (ETL Semko).
· Indoor and outdoor lights are not interchangeable. Use lights specifically made for indoor use and ones made for outdoor use.
· Never use frayed light strands. Replace them.
· Turn off and unplug the lights when you leave the house or go to bed.
· Keep electric cords away from pets and kids. Make sure they are not a trip hazard.
· Do not overload an extension cord strip our outlet.
Lastly, if your tree dries out, it becomes a fire hazard. Replace it.
At Rosie On The House, we want y’all to have a beautiful, joyous, and most of all, safe holiday!
Join Rosie on the House every Saturday morning from 8 a.m.-11 a.m. on KTAR News 92.3. If you’d like to send us questions or comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter and “Like” us on Facebook. For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program. Call 888-767-4348 with questions & comments.