by M. Jolaine Szymkowiak

The Gifted Christmas Tree
M. Jolaine Szymkowiak, MA-EM

Christmas trees are a vital part of our Christmas and Advent season. Millions of families bring a natural or artificial Christmas Tree into their homes to become the warm and glowing center of the Christmas celebration. The tradition endures year after year. . . but how did it get started? Here are some interesting facts surrounding the Christmas Tree:

* It is generally agreed that the use of an evergreen tree is part of the Christian Christmas celebration started 400 years ago in Germany and spread to most of northern Europe by the 19th century.

* Hessian Mercenaries, during the American Revolutionary War, brought the custom of a tree at Christmas to the United States. In 1804, soldiers at Ft. Dearborn (now Chicago) hauled trees to their barracks during Christmas.

* A Philadelphia newspaper story printed in 1825 commented on decorated trees in the German immigrant homes. In 1842, a German named Charles Minnegerode introduced the custom in Williamsburg, VA. His tree was described as "splendidly decorated" with strings of popped corn, lighted candles and gilded nuts.

* The first Christmas tree retail lot was set up in 1851 by a Pennsylvanian named Mark Carr who hauled two ox sleds loaded with trees from his land in the Catskills to the sidewalks of New York City.

* The 14th President of the US, Franklin Pierce, was the first President to set up a Christmas tree in the White House. In 1923, Calvin Coolidge established the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn.

We see the Christmas Tree deeply rooted in old traditions, and also in legend. One such legend is that an evergreen protected Joseph and Mary and the Infant Jesus from Herod's soldiers. Another is that God sent heavenly messengers to earth to find a tree "as high as Faith, as eternal as Hope and as widespread as Love" to symbolize the birth of Jesus. They chose the balsam fir, which the story goes ...

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