The Christmas Tree Is a Rich Tradition
by Ro Wauer
Christmas in many parts of the country is a snowtime-and-skiiing time of year. But for those us living in South Texas, where snow is almost a once in a lifetime occurrence, the Christmas tree is our most obvious and cherished symbol of the season.
It is that time of year filled with greeting cards, Santa, goodwill to man, and Christ. But whatever our religious preference, the Christmas tree seems to stand apart as being something special. A bright tree, covered with tinsel and bulbs, has a priority place in all our homes year after year.
No one knows for sure where the Christmas tree symbol began. Scandinavians once worshipped trees, and when they became Christians, evergreen trees became part of their Christian festivals. Others argue that it originated with Martin Luther, who, about 1500, tried to reproduce an outdoor scene of snow-covered pines, complete with the Star of Bethlehem, within his home. By 1561, an ordinance in Strasbourg, France, limited residents from cutting bushes for yuletide "more than the length of eight shoes."
Ornaments may have begun with pre-civilized humans who hung meat and other food on trees to keep it safe from wild animals. Those goods may have evolved into cookies and candies, and eventually tinsel was added. Do you remember the story of how tinsel was invented? It was after spiders made a mess of things, spinning webs over a poor woman's tree for her children, that a fairy godmother turned the trick to treat.
During the Great Depression in the 1930s, nurserymen could not sell their cultivated evergreens for landscaping and began to cut trees for Christmas trees. Now, more than two-thirds of all Christmas trees sold in America are plantation-grown trees. Of the more than 40 million trees grown and cut annually, 27% are Scotch pine, 22% are Douglas fir, 12% are balsam fir, and the remainder includes a wide variety of pine and fir. Balsam fir is normally the most expensive because it usually possesses the perfect “Christmas tree shape” and retains its needles longest. And today, for various reasons including allergies and loss of plantation space, the popularity of artificial Christmas trees is on the increase.
Elizabeth Silverthorne, in her lovely book, Christmas in Texas, points out that during the 1800s, after President Franklin Pierce brought a Christmas tree into the White House, "Texans decorated their trees with whatever was handy: red berries, moss, mistletoe, cotton, pecans wrapped in colored cloth or paper, strings of popcorn, red peppers made into garlands, and homemade cookies and candies." She adds that "by the late 1800s Christmas trees were all the rage. The Austin Statesman advised its readers that if you can’t pay two dollars for one, take a hatchet, go out into the woods and poach on somebody's forest. You must have a Christmas tree or there will be no Christmas."
Attempting to explain the Christmas tree custom only fogs the fun. Trees will be part of the Christmas scene as long as kids from two to ninety get starlight in their eyes when they focus on the star atop the tree that, after all, symbolizes the real spirit of Christmas.