Fun Facts

Fun Facts About Christmas Trees
As people are hustling and bustling through the ‘holly day’ season, few take a moment to marvel over the history and life of a Christmas tree. These little tidbits might come in handy for small talk at your next party.

  • The first printed reference to Christmas trees appeared in Germany in 1531.
  • 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.
  • In 1963, the National Christmas Tree was not lighted until December 22 because of a national 30-day period of mourning following the assassination of President Kennedy.
  • In 1979, the National Christmas Tree was not lighted except for the top ornament. This was done in honor of the American hostages in Iran.
  • Oregon produces the most Christmas trees, 8.6 million in 1998.
  • Growing Christmas trees provides a habitat for wildlife. Recycled live trees have been used to make sand and soil erosion barriers, placed in ponds for fish shelter and make great winter protection for perennial flowers.
  • Nationally, 59% of Christmas trees harvested are recycled in community programs.
  • Christmas trees take 7-10 years from planting, managing insects and diseases, shearing and weathering all kinds of environmental problems, to produce a saleable tree.
  • Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states including Hawaii and Alaska.
    98 percent of all Christmas trees are grown on farms.
  • On average, over 2,000 Christmas trees are planted per acre. 2-3 seedlings are planted for every harvested Christmas tree.
  • 32.4 million families purchased a real tree in 2000.
  • Other types of trees, such as cherry and hawthorns, were used as Christmas trees in the past.
  • Using small candles to light a Christmas tree dates back to the middle of the 17th century.
  • Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees in 1882. Christmas tree lights were first mass produced in 1890.
  • What Christmas tree decoration did the government ban at one time? Tinsel. It originally contained lead, now it’s made of plastic.
  • Keep your tree well watered. In the first week, a tree in your home will consume as much as a quart of water per day.
  • You should never burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace. It can contribute to creosote buildup and cause a house fire.

Christmas Tree Legends

Christmas trees are one of the many decorations used during the coming holiday season. Christmas trees are one of the many traditions each of us have grown up with. Many legends exist concerning the origination of the first Christmas tree. Some of these legends are:

During their midwinter festival, the early Romans decorated trees with bits of metal and replicas of their god, Bacchus. They also placed 12 candles on the tree in honor of their sun god.

During the winter season in Northern Europe, Druids honored their main god, Woden, by tying fruit to tree branches and offering cakes, fashioned into birds, fish and animals. The Druids, too, placed candles on the boughs of the trees to honor their sun god.

Another legend regarding the first Christmas tree says an evergreen sprang from the center of an oak tree cut down by St. Boniface in 8th century Germany. The oak symbolized paganism, and its death brought an end to the old ways. The new tree was to be “the sign of endless life, for its leaves are evergreen.”

Another legend credits Martin Luther with being the first to add holiday decoration to an indoor tree. As he walked home through the forest one clear winter night, he observed the beauty of the stately evergreens and the stars sparkling through the branches from above. When Luther arrived home and tried to describe the beautiful experience to his wife and children, he was unable to find the words. To illustrate the scene, he went to the woods and returned with a small fir tree which was erected in the home and decorated with lighted candles. By the middle of the 16th century, decorated standing trees became popular in Germany and France.

The Christmas tree was introduced to America around 1700 by German immigrants, but the custom did not become popular with most Americans until the 1800’s. Although the records are not clear, the first decorated Christmas tree in America may have been set up by homesick Hessian soldiers during the Revolutionary War. In fact, a Christmas Eve celebration by the Hessian soldiers may have provided George Washington with the opportunity to turn the tide of the Colonial Forces in 1776. On that fateful Christmas day, Washington’s men had little for which to be thankful. They were cold, hungry, and poorly clothed. The Hessians were confident of victory and began their festivities by drinking grog the previous evening. The attack by Washington on Christmas Day found them ill prepared for the rigors of battle.

The first written account of a Christmas tree seems to belong to Charles Follen in 1832. He was a political refugee from Germany and a teacher at Harvard. He decorated a tree as part of a Christmas party for his small son, as remembrance of similar events in his homeland.

Information adapted from “Plants Play Part in Christmas Traditions” by Diane Relf, Virginia State Extension Specialist.