Christmas trees from bygone days to future ones

By Lynette L. Walther | Nov 30, 2012
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Examples of tree decorations to make with your own stamp of “genius,” include poodles to prance around the Christmas tree, along with kitty cats and of course mice too. The little dogs and cats were found at a craft store and enhanced with tutus. Tiny mittens, caps and stockings were knitted from scrap yarn, pecans with pink felt ears and tails became mice, palm baskets and tiny aprons are all are quick and easy to create.

It’s in the air, as well as the shops. The holiday season is already everywhere, and that means Christmas trees will soon be up and ready for trimming. Oh Tannenbaum! or Oh Christmas tree! — no matter how you sing it, the green tree that provides the centerpiece of our holiday decorating has a long and distinguished history around the globe, and was initially popularized by royalty. And oh the fragrance! Doesn’t a fresh green fir tree just say “Christmas?” Your Christmas tree has nearly four centuries of tradition under its belt with accounts of decorated trees dating back to 16th century Germany.

Those first trees were outside, in public parks or town squares and were decorated with fanciful cookies, nuts and fruits — no doubt providing a feast for the birds as well as the eyes. It wasn’t until the 1800s that lights, in the form of tiny lit candles, were added to the trees. We can credit Prince Albert (German husband of Britain's Queen Victoria) with bringing Christmas trees into the home. Errrr, in their case make that castle.

Earliest records of the Christmas trees similar to the ones we are familiar with today show 1832 as when Victoria noted her family celebration around indoor trees decorated with gingerbread cookies and lighted candles: “After dinner we then went into the drawing room where two trees were hung with lights and sugar ornaments…all presents being placed around the tree.”

Of course Victoria’s and Albert’s royal Christmas trees set the standard for elegant holiday decorating and really got the ball rolling. As you might suspect it wasn’t long before everyone wanted a Christmas tree, although it took two decades for the trend to reach across “The Pond.” But in 1856 President Franklin Pierce had the first White House Christmas tree installed. Tree ornaments by this time had evolved considerably from the gingerbread men and critters, with carved wood animals, toys and musical instruments and cut paper figures. By the end of the century, German artisans began hand-blown glass ornaments, and that American font of marketing innovation, Woolworth’s, was selling some $25 million of imported German glass ornaments per year by 1890. In 1931, an undecorated tree graced the construction site of the Rockefeller Center in New York City, starting a special tradition that continues to this day.

By 1940 the Corning Glass Company stepped into the market, producing some 300,000 Christmas tree ornaments per day. Some of those early examples were in the shapes of fishes, animals and songbirds. Even then themed Christmas trees included fairy tale characters such as Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood. But to be sure the most popular ornament of all time has to be Santa Claus.

Long gone are those hazardous lighted candles, and today’s Christmas tree lighting has never been so current. One of the newest and brightest innovations for Christmas trees is the introduction of LED lights which use far less electricity than conventional sets and LED mini-lights are cooler than standard tree lights.

There’s nothing like the fragrance of a balsam fir or pine to add to the season. It’s comforting to know that the cut Christmas tree you purchase is part of a farming industry which grows Christmas trees for the purpose just like any other agricultural crop.

The aroma of a freshly-cut Christmas tree infuses a home with holiday spirit, and the beauty and warmth of a real tree still cannot be matched by artificial trees. A couple simple steps will help ensure that your cut tree will stay fresh longer. You’ll note that there often is a layer of sap coating the cut edge of the trunk. This can prevent the tree from absorbing water. But you can slice off an inch or so from the bottom of the trunk, and then quickly put it in a bucket or pail of water. Also once inside, position tree away from hot/dry air sources and out of direct sun. A timer can automatically turn lights off when you are not at home or overnight.

A fresh tree can take up a lot of water once inside, and you’ll want a tree stand that can hold at least a gallon of water which need to be topped off every day. (Or try a new product called Christmas Vacation which is reported to keep a Christmas tree fresh throughout the holiday season. Simply mix one 8-ounce bottle of Christmas Vacation with one gallon of water and pour the solution into the tree stand reservoir. Once the solution is absorbed through the trunk, Christmas Vacation will keep the tree green with less needle drop for up to three to four weeks. Christmas Vacation can also be used on poinsettias and other potted plants and is safe for people and pets, derived from all-natural plant extracts. Find Christmas Vacation at garden centers, hardware stores or online at naturehills.com.)

If you object to a cut tree and an artificial one isn’t for you, then perhaps a living tree would be your choice. A balsam fir is a good variety to grow here. The nice thing about a live Christmas tree with balled roots is that you can plant it outdoors after the holiday where it can provide a living and growing memento of a Christmas past. However, living trees require special treatment if they are to be successful once planted outside. For the specifics of keeping a living Christmas tree alive, and eventually planting it for enjoyment in years to come visit my blog at: gardeningonthego.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/caring-for-a-living-christmas-tree-for-now-and-the-future/.

Many families have special ornaments that mark family events or special years, and many adults cherish ornaments from their childhood — which often accumulate over the years to make each Christmas tree a unique family tradition.

One of the things I like to do for Christmas presents is to create tree ornaments as gifts. One year I knitted tiny mittens and Christmas stockings. Another time I fashioned ornaments from little pink poodles and kittens I found at a major crafts store. They were “dressed” with frilly tutus, and another year I knitted sweaters for tiny teddy bears. One year I wove little coil baskets from palm fronds I had collected while on a trip to the Bahama Islands, and yet another year I made “mice” from unshelled pecans with big pink felt ears and tails, shiny black seed bead eyes and black thread whiskers. This year I am sewing up miniature cobbler’s aprons from vintage flour sack prints and making tiny clothes hangers from wire on which to hang the aprons.

I know someone from Switzerland who is knitting a host of little stocking caps from yarn scraps she has accumulated over the years. The hats will be strung on a yarn cable to form Advent calendars, each cap holding a little surprise, a gift that gives and can be reused each year. Homemade tree ornaments are an inexpensive way to share the Christmas spirit in a manner that can be enjoyed for years to come. You might even start a family tradition.

Last year we had a new kitten in the house, and so the tree had to be kitten-proofed. We had experienced the downing of our fully-decorated Christmas in the middle of the night years ago when a previous cat was in her frisky kittenhood so we were prepared. (Parents of toddlers no doubt have similar tales to tell.) A length of heavy monofilament line attached the top of the tree to the ceiling for good measure, and ornaments consisted of our collection of plastic fishing bobbers we have acquired over years of finding them on various bodies of water, even when beach combing. We have learned that a Christmas tree can be decorated in any number of ways, the important part being that it is a reflection of you and your family.

And no matter what sort of Christmas tree you have or how it is decorated, here’s wishing you a merry holiday season.

Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the Garden Writers Association’s Silver Award of Achievement for 2012, and is the author of “Florida Gardening on the Go.” She is a member of the Garden Writers Association, and she gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: gardeningonthego.wordpress.com or join her on Facebook.

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