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10 Things Nobody Tells You About Christmas Trees

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10 Things Nobody Tells You About Christmas Trees

December 3, 2018

History tells us that the first person in the US known to decorate an evergreen tree to celebrate Christmas was a Harvard professor. In 1832 Charles Follen (who had brought the idea with him when he immigrated from Germany) attached candles to branches and lit them to celebrate the holiday. Live flames on the tips of tree branches? You would think a college professor would know better.

The audacious idea caught on, but thankfully the invention of electricity eliminated the use of open flames to light Christmas trees. And as more decades passed…well, you may think know the rest of the story of Christmas trees.

But there’s a lot about yuletide decor that nobody tells you. Here are 10 things to talk about while you are hanging tinsel on a Christmas tree this holiday season:

1. Christmas tree farms are actually good for the environment (and the economy).

Above: See more at The Old Farm Christmas Tree Place in Maine. Photograph by Justina Bilodeau.

Christmas tree farms grow trees for a specific purpose and cutting one down does not harm real forests or wild landscapes. Acreage devoted to growing the trees is land protected (at least for now) from development.

After cutting down Christmas trees, farmers will plant plenty more next spring (often on rocky or steep land where other crops won’t thrive). Like all trees, as they grow Christmas trees will clean the air by absorbing pollutants such as ozone. Plus, their leaves and bark capture particulates, filtering the air.

After typing all those benefits Christmas trees bring to the world, I’m tempted to get two this year.

2. Cutting your own Christmas tree reduces your carbon footprint.

See more in Christmas in Burgundy: At Home with the Expat Family Behind the Cook’s Atelier on Remodelista. Photograph by Anson Smart, courtesy of The Cook’s Atelier.
Above: See more in Christmas in Burgundy: At Home with the Expat Family Behind the Cook’s Atelier on Remodelista. Photograph by Anson Smart, courtesy of The Cook’s Atelier.

Americans purchased 27.4 million real Christmas trees last year. The closer your Christmas tree was grown to your home, the less fuel was necessary to transport it to your living room.

3. Fake trees can be environmentally friendly.

I say faux, you say fake, but we can agree this artificial Alpine Balsam Fir Christmas tree has an appeal. Available in six heights (from 4.5 to \1\2 feet) and with an option of pre-strung clear LED fairy lights, the tree&#8\2\17;s price ranges from \$\1\29 to \$799 at Balsam Hill.
Above: I say faux, you say fake, but we can agree this artificial Alpine Balsam Fir Christmas tree has an appeal. Available in six heights (from 4.5 to 12 feet) and with an option of pre-strung clear LED fairy lights, the tree’s price ranges from $129 to $799 at Balsam Hill.

Americans are purchasing more fake Christmas trees every year (last year the total was 21.1 million, up from 18.6 million in 2016) and if one of them is yours, the way to make it a sustainable purchase is to keep using it year after year. “Depending on how a real tree is disposed of, an artificial tree would only have to be used for 3.6 to 4 years before there was a net benefit with regard to contribution to global warming,” notes the American Christmas Tree Association, a trade group for manufacturers.

4. Some Christmas trees drop needles faster than others.

Above: An Alberta spruce tree. See more tips for choosing a tree in How to Pick Your Perfect Christmas Tree. Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

The pointy, short needs of Norway spruce trees (Picea abies) are notorious for dropping quickly. Slower to shed are Fraser firs (Abies fraseri) and blue spruce trees (Picea pungens).

5. You can buy a 7-foot live Christmas tree on Amazon (with Prime shipping).

Above: From Hallmark Flowers, a 6- to 7-foot Balsam Fir Real Christmas Tree is $109.99 (and eligible for Prime shipping). Also available for the same price on Amazon are a Fraser Fir and a Black Hills Spruce.

The live Christmas trees are “freshly cut, double baled with twine, and boxed from a U.S. family owned farm direct to your doorstep,” notes Hallmark Flowers.

Buyers, take note: Amazon customer reviews for live Christmas trees range widely, from five stars (“Smells amazing, is alive and soft and green, very full branches”) to one star (“The entire tip of the tree was broken off!!”).

6. You can rent a fully decorated Christmas tree (skirt included).

Above: You can sew your own Christmas tree skirt with our easy step-by-step instructions at DIY: Burlap Christmas Tree Skirt. Photograph by Sarah Waldo Jagger.

Want to rent a live Christmas tree? New York City-based Rent-a-Christmas offers “all-inclusive live Christmas tree packages with lights, ornaments, skirt, star, and tinsel. All packages include free delivery, set up, take-down and removal by the Rent-A-Christmas elves.” Price range from $599 for a 4-foot tree to $1,099 for a 9-foot tree.

7. The first year a Christmas tree was decorated with electric lights was 1882.

Above: In Remodelista founder Julie Carlson’s Mill Valley house, a Christmas tree is decorated with white lights and foraged finds. Read more in Holiday Decor: The Foraged Christmas Tree on Remodelista. Photograph by Meredith Swinehart.

Soon after Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, his business partner Edward Hibberd Johnson decorated a Christmas tree in his Manhattan townhouse with 80 hand-wired, blinking red, white, and blue lights. The tree, which was mounted on a motorized base, revolved slowly to the delight of holiday party guests, according to a newspaper report.

8. Before electricity caught on, Christmas trees were dangerous enough to kill people.

A decorative copper four-leaved Candlestick Flower is 95 SEK at Zetas. Recommended use is not on a Christmas tree (despite photograph). The &#8\2\20;decorative four-leaf candle holder in copper fits perfectly in the moss-filled leather pot with a single white light,&#8\2\2\1; notes Zetas.
Above: A decorative copper four-leaved Candlestick Flower is 95 SEK at Zetas. Recommended use is not on a Christmas tree (despite photograph). The “decorative four-leaf candle holder in copper fits perfectly in the moss-filled leather pot with a single white light,” notes Zetas.

Although the invention by Frederick Artz of the clip-on candle holder in 1878 made Christmas tree candles less likely to topple over and set the room ablaze, safety problems remained.

In 1894, for example, a Pennsylvania schoolteacher dressed up as Santa was severely burned after his fake beard caught on fire while he was lighting candles on a Christmas tree. He was “quickly enveloped in flames,” the New York Times reported. “His face, neck, forehead, and arms were severely burned before the fire could be smothered with rugs….He will be permanently scarred.”

9. The inventor of the Christmas tree lot was a 19th-century woodsman.

Above: See more at The Old Farm Christmas Tree Place in Maine. Photograph by Justina Bilodeau.

New York City’s first Christmas tree lot opened in 1851, operated by woodsman Mark Carr, in downtown Washington Market (a wholesale produce market demolished in the 1960s), according to History Matters. (Thanks also to History Matters for the story of America’s first decorated Christmas tree.)

10. The average price of a live Christmas tree is $75.

Homemade garland and DIY acorn ornaments are a charming addition to any Christmas tree. See more in DIY: A Living Christmas Tree. Photograph by Justine Hand.
Above: Homemade garland and DIY acorn ornaments are a charming addition to any Christmas tree. See more in DIY: A Living Christmas Tree. Photograph by Justine Hand.

Maybe you’ll pay more than $75, maybe you’ll pay less. But now you know, courtesy of the National Christmas Tree Association.

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