The first Christmas after we moved from New York City to the country, our search for a Christmas tree was a special event. My dad, a devoted hunter, had scouted the woods and knew exactly where we were to cut our tree. He came home from work early on Christmas Eve, got our largest sled out, and off we trudged into the woods. He gave my sister, brother and I our choice of six different trees. The haggling went on for a while and we finally got one much too tall for our living room. My dad agreed, as he knew that he would be cutting off the bottom and would fill in any gaps with the extra branches. We always had a prefect symmetrical tree when my father finished drilling and wiring branches to my mother’s satisfaction. We adorned it with ornaments handed down through the family and the traditional lead tinsel.
A far cry from the Christmas trees of today, which are grown on farms as sustainable crops and are shaped and trimmed to satisfy the most critical tree aficionada.
Ninety-eight percent of all Christmas trees are grown on farms; only two percent are cut from the wild.
To ensure enough trees for harvest, growers have to plant one to three seedlings for every tree harvested. Most trees take six to ten years to be ready for the market.
There are more than 15,000 Christmas tree farms in the U.S.
In 2013, 48 million Christmas tree seedlings were planted by U.S. growers.
There are approximately 350 million Christmas trees growing on U.S. farms.
Twenty-four and a half million farm-grown Christmas trees were purchased in the U.S. The average price in 2013 was $41.30.
The most popular trees are Balsam, Douglas, Fraser and Scotch pine, in that order.
In 2013, 10.9 million artificial trees were sold.
Artificial trees were developed in Germany during the 19th century and much later became popular in the U.S. The original “trees” were made from dyed green goose feathers attached to wire branches. The branches were wrapped around a dowel, which served as the trunk.
In 1930, the Addis Brush Company made a tree from brush bristles, the same method used to make toilet brushes, but dyed green.
Today, trees are made from PVC plastic, with 80 percent of artificial trees worldwide manufactured in China.
Whether your choice is real or plastic, the tree is a centuries-old tradition. Research any religion, cult or ritual and you’ll find a role for trees. Primitive man noticed the evergreen’s ability to remain green throughout the coldest winter when all else was bare. During the Winter Solstice, the sacred evergreen trees were cut and brought into their houses to protect the family in the coming New Year.
The Germans seem to be the first to make a business out of it, selling trees in public markets somewhere around 1500. Those trees were small enough to fit on the dining room table.
Prior to 1883, all ornaments were edible; flat gingerbread cakes, twisted pretzels (which originally symbolized praying hands), colored popcorn, nuts, sugar plums and fruit. Then New York toy wholesalers, the Elric Brothers, started making glass ornaments. These brightly colored ornaments, then called bulbs, caught on and were sold by the thousands.
The first news article on Christmas trees in a major American city can be found in an 1825 edition of Philadelphia’s Saturday Evening Post, which described the holidays as delightful views of “trees visible through windows, whose green boughs are laden with fruit, richer than the golden apples of the Hesperides.”
I recently returned from a two-week vacation to Australia. Their Christmas comes in the middle of summer (101 to 104 degrees). They do hang plastic wreaths on their doors, and decorate with a shrub type of tree with small green leaves and cream-colored flowers which turn a deep shiny red for a few weeks.
Santa gives the reindeer a rest and uses six kangaroos, called “six white boomers” (a popular Australian Christmas Song!). Instead of a thick red suit he wears shorts.
Most families eat their main meal at lunch and have a cold Christmas dinner, or a barbecue with seafood such as prawns and lobsters, along with traditional English food. On Christmas Eve, the fish markets are full of people lining up to buy their fresh seafood for Christmas Day.
Christmas in different parts of the world all seem to have the same theme: family, friends and food. Good cheer and fellowship seem to abound this time of year. Oh! If only could we keep it going throughout all the seasons…
Barbara Buono’s column appears monthly.