Each Christmas season millions of trees are purchased from lots and tree farms across the Nation. Few realize that the use of decorated trees as the centerpiece of this joyous celebration is a relatively recent tradition in America. Most historians agree that the first decorated Christmas trees appeared in the U.S. in the mid 1800's. These trees were cut from natural stands of timber that surrounded the population centers of the time. As with most human tradition, the use of decorated Christmas trees evolved over the subsequent 150 year period to the production and distribution system that we know today.
But the trees that grace our homes each year at Christmas are not newcomers to planet Earth. Most have been our neighbors for centuries, predating even the very first Christmas. So, where did these trees come from? How did we find them? Where do they grow? How do we grow more? And do we use them for things other than Christmas trees?
Although frequently taken for granted, trees share our lives in a most intimate way. They give us oxygen to breathe. Their wood insulates us from the cold, and protects us from the heat. They have helped us to build abacuses and accordions, barns and bridges, couches and carrousels, cisterns and sanctuaries. They have given us ships to sail the oceans and aircraft to fly the skies. Their paper helps us to teach and learn, to conjugate and congratulate, to dream and draw. And trees are a source of perfumes and medicines, solvents and polymers.
But this unavoidable relationship between humanity and trees is not as one sided as it may seem. For our share, we propagate and cultivate. We classify and clone. In truth, the trees in our custody and care have flourished. Specific cultivars and varieties can be seen far beyond their natural ranges. And the abundance of individual plants has increased too. On the average three new seedlings are planted for each tree harvested. And in fact, some of the trees we grow are sterile hybrids. If not propagated by man, they would exist only once in nature.
Since we humans share so much else with trees, is it not fitting that we share Christmas too?