Christmas tree facts, selection and care

Christmas tree facts, selection and care


The decorated Christmas tree can be traced back to the ancient Romans, who decorated trees with small pieces of metal during Saturnalia, a winter festival in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture.

An evergreen, the Paradise tree, was decorated with apples as a symbol of the feast of Adam and Eve held on Dec. 24 during the Middle Ages.

In the 16th century, Martin Luther was credited as being the first to decorate an indoor tree. After a walk through a forest of evergreens with shining stars overhead, Luther tried to describe the experience to his family and showed them by bringing a tree into their home and decorating it with candles.

The custom of the Christmas tree was introduced in the United States during the War of Independence by Hessian troops. An early account tells of a Christmas tree set up by American soldiers at Fort Dearborn, Ill., the site of Chicago, in 1804. Most other early accounts in the United States were among the German settlers in eastern Pennsylvania.

Charles Minnegrode introduced the custom of decorating trees in Williamsburg, Va. in 1842. By 1850, the Christmas tree had been fashionable in the eastern states. Until this time, it had been considered a quaint foreign custom.

Mark Carr brought trees from the Catskills to the streets of New York in 1851, and opened the first retail Christmas tree lot in the United States.

Franklin Pierce was the first president to introduce the Christmas tree to the White House in 1856 for a group of Washington Sunday School children. The first national Christmas tree was lighted in 1923 on the White House lawn by President Calvin Coolidge.

Selection and care

Here are a few hints to help you select the perfect tree, whether you purchase it from a neighborhood lot or a Christmas tree farm.

l Decide on where you will place the tree. Will it be seen from all sides, or will some of it be up against a wall? Be sure to choose a spot away from heat sources, such as TVs, fireplaces, radiators and air ducts. Place the tree clear of doors.

l Measure the height and width of the space available in the room. Take a tape measure with you to measure your chosen tree and bring a cord to tie your tree to the car.

l Remember that trees sold on retail lots in urban areas may have come from out of state and may have been exposed to drying winds in transit. They may have been cut weeks earlier. Buy trees early before the best trees have been sold.

l Choose a fresh tree with a healthy, green appearance with few browning needles. Needles should be flexible and not fall off if you ran a branch through your hand. Raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the butt end. Green needles should not drop off the tree.

l Choose a tree that fits where it is to be displayed. If it will be displayed in front of a large window, then all four sides should look as good as possible. If displayed against a wall, then a tree with three good sides would be okay. A tree with two good sides would work well in a corner.

l Make sure the handle or base of the tree is straight and 6-8 inches long so it will fit easily into the stand.

l Do a little research on different Christmas tree types. Some tree species will hold needles longer than others.

Some tips for your family’s visit to a local tree farm:

l Most tree farms keep their fields very well groomed, but some things are beyond the farmer’s control. Be careful of fire-ant mounds, tree stumps, an occasional blackberry vine, uneven ground and sharp saws.

l Go to the farm prepared for a day in the country. Wear comfortable shoes and old clothes. Bring rain gear if the weather is threatening. The “cutter downers” and the “loader uppers” should have gloves. Don’t forget the camera, and leave “Rover” at home. (Many farms will prohibit pets.) But if a pet is allowed and must come along, keep him on a leash at all times. Don’t let him “mark” other people’s trees.

l Saws are usually provided by the farm operator.

l Some farms measure and price their trees individually; others sell them by the foot. Ask about the pricing policy before heading out in the field.

l Head into the field and select the tree that fits your predetermined needs. Check the trunk to be sure that it is sufficiently straight. Also check that the tree has a sufficiently long handle to fit in your stand.

l Cutting the tree is easiest as a two-person project. The “cutter downer” usually lies on the ground while the helper holds the bottom limbs up. While the cut is being made, the helper should tug on the tree lightly to ensure that the saw kerf remains open so that the saw does not bind. The tugging force should be applied to the side of the tree opposite the cut. A back cut should be made first with the final cut coming from the opposite side.

l Bring the tree to the processing area where it will be cleaned and netted. Netting makes transporting and handling the tree substantially easier.

l When you are checking out, remember to pick up a tree removal bag if available. It can be used as a tree skirt and then pulled up around the tree to help keep floors clean when the tree is being taken down.

l When bringing the tree home, cover it with a tarp or plastic to keep it from drying out.

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