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The Christmas Tree in America

Although legends say that Hessian soldiers used Christmas trees during the American Revolutionary war on December 24, 1776, no historical evidence indicates this was the case. However, they did introduce the tree to the children of Newport, Rhode Island. Some years later in 1804, it is a fact that the Hessians displayed them at Fort Dearborn, Michigan. They brought the trees into their barracks.

In America, the trees were first mentioned in the diary of a German immigrant. According to an 1825 article in a Philadelphia newspaper, the trees were seen in the homes of German immigrants. The Christian Science Monitor said the first exhibition of a tree was held in York, PA. in 1830. It was popular among the Germans who came to America, especially among the Pennsylvania Dutch. They spread the idea in Pennsylvania in particular but also other locations as well. It was common in Pennsylvania by 1840. In 1832 it was brought to Boston by a German immigrant, Charles Follen.

The first Christmas tree at Williamsburg was created by Charles Minnegerode. He taught at the College of William and Mary, and set one up for Judge Tucker. This was decorated with popcorn, nuts, candles, and globes of colored paper. The judge loved the tree. In subsequent years, he decorated trees and invited the townspeople to come and view it.

The trees spread around the country at a rapid pace wherever German settlers went. A German traveler in Texas in 1846 described “a richly decorated and illuminated Christmas tree” where Indians had campfires two years before. A German settler established one in Wooster, Ohio in 1847. A German shopkeeper, August Bodeker, had the first one in Richmond. In 1850, there was one in Charleston and in 1851 in Vicksburg. People in warm areas of the country often decorated the trees with cotton tufts to symbolize snow.

The first real commercial sale of the trees in America dates from 1851. Mark Carr of Pennsylvania cut some tree in the Catskills and took two sleds pulled by oxen to New York City to sell on the street. He rented a sidewalk space for $100. The venture was so successful that his landlord raised the rent the following year. The trees were balsam firs.


The National Christmas Tree

President Franklin Pierce in 1856 was the first one to have a tree in the White House. In 1913 Woodrow Wilson held the first national Christmas tree ceremony. However, this didn’t actually occur in the White House. In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge began the tradition of having a National Christmas Tree lighting at the White House. Theodore Roosevelt initially sought to discontinue the use of the White House tree due to conservation concerns. He was persuaded to change his mind when one of his sons sneaked a tree into his room.

There is now a national competition to choose the best tree. Artists and designers are invited to create original ornaments and decorations for the National Christmas tree.

The first Christmas tree lights showed up around 1895. The colored ones were available around five years later. San Diego lit a public tree in 1904. Pasadena followed in 1909. In 1912, several major cities joined the trend, including New York City, Cleveland, and Boston. Philadelphia followed two years later. The town of Christmas, Florida has a lit tree year-round.

The most popular kinds of Christmas trees are Douglas fir, Noble fir, Fraser fir, Scotch pine, white pine, and Virginia pine.

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