Yard and Garden: Learning about Christmas Tree Facts and Legends

December 7, 2016, 3:59 pm | Richard Jauron, Greg Wallace

AMES, Iowa – During the holiday season, Christmas trees make appearances across Iowa and across the nation as part of the season’s celebration. But there’s plenty to learn about these popular trees. What are their origins? How many are purchased yearly? And which are the most popular for home use?

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists can help answer queries about Christmas trees and other holiday plants. 

What are the most popular Christmas trees in the United States?

The top selling Christmas trees in the United States are balsam fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, noble fir, Scotch pine, Virginia pine and white pine.

Christmas Trees

How many Christmas trees are purchased each year?

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, U.S. consumers purchased 25.9 million farm-grown Christmas trees in 2015. Seventy-six percent were purchased as pre-cut trees at garden centers, chain stores and other retail lots. Twenty-four percent were purchased at local “choose and cut” tree farms.  

Oregon is the top Christmas tree producing state. In 2012, approximately 6.5 million trees were harvested in the state. North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington are the other top Christmas tree producing states. An estimated 27,000 trees were harvested in the state of Iowa.

What are the origins of the Christmas tree?

For thousands of years, evergreen trees have had a special meaning for the inhabitants of northern Europe. The Germanic peoples would bring evergreen boughs into their homes during winter to insure the protection of the home and the return of life to the snow-covered forest. Druids, priests of the ancient Celts, decorated their temples with evergreen boughs during the winter solstice as a symbol of everlasting life. The Vikings decorated evergreens with carved objects and food to entice the tree spirits to return in spring.  

The modern Christmas tree is believed to have originated in Germany in the 16th century. There are several legends regarding the origin of the Christmas tree.  

Some believe the Christmas tree evolved from the Paradise Tree of the Middle Ages. During the 14th and 15th centuries, evergreen trees played an important role in miracle and mystery plays. One such play dramatized the fall of Adam and Eve and was performed on Dec.r 24. On stage during the play was a Paradise Tree (an evergreen with red apples hung from its branches).  

Others believe that the Christmas tree began with Martin Luther. According to legend, Martin Luther was inspired by the beauty of the twinkling stars and stately evergreens on Christmas Eve. In an attempt to duplicate the scene, he cut down an evergreen, brought it home and decorated it with candles.  

German immigrants and Hessian soldiers hired by the British to fight the colonists during the American Revolution are thought to have brought the Christmas tree tradition to the United States.  

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