The tradition of bringing evergreen branches into our homes in winter is an ancient one, shared by Egyptians, Druids, & Romans. The evergreen needles or leaves symbolized everlasting life and the warmer, more plentiful seasons, while the depths of the cold winter were all around them.
Trees coming into the home to celebrate Christmas probably began with the German religious reformer Martin Luther in the 1500s. As the story goes, he started the tradition of lighting the tree to celebrate the birth of Jesus after seeing a beautiful evergreen dusted with snow in the moonlight of a Christmas Eve. The tradition supposedly came to America in the early 1800’s with German or Hessian immigrants.
It didn’t become a widespread practice until the mid to late 1800’s when Mark Carr, a farmer in the Catskills of New York, took a big gamble and brought a cartload into New York City. He sold out and could have sold many more. Then, by 1920 or so, almost every Christian family had one at Christmastime. These days, supposedly over 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year.
Whether you choose a cut or a living tree, years of care have gone into providing you with a thick, symmetrical tree. Cut trees are grown in tree farms around the country, instead of being harvested in the wild, like they were when the tradition started. A tree will take five to sixteen years to reach perfect “christmastreeness “, with constant pruning and care. Balled and burlapped trees, or B&B trees, have a similar beginning to life, but with the extra care in preserving the roots, the cost of the final product is of course, higher. With a living tree however, you have more than a lifetime of enjoyment as you watch it grow.
The most common B&B trees in our area are the Douglas fir, Blue Spruce, and Norway Spruce. When buying a live tree, make sure you have the planting spot picked out early. Choose a tree that will thrive with the amount of sun you can provide it with, and make sure you dig the hole before the ground has frozen. These trees do much better if brought in the home for only a week or two, and then plant them in the ground, cover with soil that has been kept from freezing, and water well. If possible, acclimate your tree to the outdoors by moving it to a protected area, such as a garage, for a week or so before planting, as sudden temperature changes can cause stress and needle drop.
If you have chosen a cut tree, there are a few uses for it even after you’ve dragged it out of your home. Stand it in the yard for birds to hide in, chop branches off and lay them over your perennial beds or pieces of statuary for winter protection, or chop and recycle them into mulch.
Jodie MacKenn Bross