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American Use of Christmas Trees: Historical Use and Species of Trees Used for Christmas in the USA

Published by Deb Hagins

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Ancient Romans were said to be one of the first to decorate trees during the winter festival of Saturnalia, honoring the god of agriculture, Saturnus. However, written records show that the first modern Christmas tree was decorated in Riga, Latvia in 1510. The tree was decorated with artificial roses, a tradition which continued for many years, as the rose represented the Virgin Mary.

Christmas trees enjoyed popularity throughout Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries but it was Queen Victoria of England who really popularized the Christmas tree in the 19th century. After a brief decline when she died, Christmas trees rose again in popularity in the latter part of the 20th century.

Christmas Trees in the USA

The Christmas tree first appeared in the United States in the 18th Century. Written records indicate that the German Moravian Church Settlement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania introduced a Christmas tree for children in 1747. It is also reported that the Christmas tree was brought into the United States during the American War of Independence (1775 -1783). In 1853, Franklin Pierce introduced the first Christmas tree to the White House. It wasn’t until 1923 that the first national American Christmas tree was lighted by President Calvin Coolidge.

Conservation of the Christmas Tree

As Christmas trees rose in popularity, there was a huge depletion of trees from the natural landscape as trees were cut down at random; in the 1900s, there was a huge decimation of natural evergreens. Magazines tried to encourage the substitution of artificial ‘snow’ covered trees, a branch of a deciduous tree which was wrapped in cotton. With the eventual endorsement of President Franklin D Roosevelt in the 1930s, Christmas tree farms became popular in an effort to control the destruction of forests.

Species of Trees Used for Christmas

In the USA alone today, approximately 25-30 million real Christmas trees are sold each year, now mainly from Christmas tree plantations. There are about 16 species of Christmas trees available in the USA and popularity of each species depends on geographical location. These species are:

  • Balsam Fir
  • Douglas Fir
  • White Spruce
  • Grand Fir
  • Noble Fir
  • Scotch Pine
  • Arizona Cypress
  • Fraser Fir
  • Norway Spruce
  • Canaan Fir
  • Eastern White Pine
  • Colorado Blue Spruce
  • Concolor Fir (White Fir)
  • Leyland Cypress
  • Virgina Pine
  • Eastern Redcedar

The most aromatic Christmas tree is the Balsam Fir, a favorite of the Northeastern United States; for good needle retention the Fraser Fir is an alternative to the Balsam Fir; the Douglas Fir is considered to be ‘child friendly’ as it has soft needles; the Arizona Cypress is popular in the Southern States with a lemon-mint aroma and the Virgina Pine has a classic pine aroma.

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