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Gathered Around the Tree

December 1, 2011

Now that we’ve all had our fill of turkey, it’s time to trim the Christmas tree! Recognizing that holiday traditions vary greatly based on religion and ethnic background, I still wanted to look at a couple of popular traditions and consider how they existed in 1900. One of those traditions is the Christmas tree.

The tradition of a Christmas tree came to America with primarily German and other Northern European immigrants.  The National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C. would not appear until 1923, but homes had trees before that. While they come in all shapes and colors these days, in 1900 they would be green and most likely a fir or cedar. The “traditional” Scotch Pine is not widely seen until the 1950s. Even if homes did not have trees, churches or school houses would have community trees reminiscent of the one in Dr. Seuss’s Whoville.

Most trees in 1900 would be cut and raised in the parlor of the home on Christmas Eve and would be lit with candles. Many of us think immediately of the fire hazard of a live tree lit with candles, but keep in mind that it would be a freshly cut tree and would only twinkle on Christmas Eve for a short amount of time.

The red cedar Christmas tree that is sitting in the parlor of the 1900 house this December.

We trim a freshly cut tree here at the 1900 farm and decorate with candles, popcorn and cranberries, in keeping with the traditions of the time on a farm. Trimmings for the tree varied greatly by family depending on traditions, religious and ethnic backgrounds, and financial situations. Many of the ornaments of the time were handmade like popcorn balls or things that had been collected like hickory and walnuts.

We don’t tend to think much about popular styles regarding the decorations of Christmas trees. With personal traditions and ornaments, Christmas trees are unique to the house they garnish. Still, trends do exist, and in 1900, people were moving away from the lavish trees of the Victorian Era, moving instead towards austere decorations of materials such as cotton, tinsel, popcorn, cranberries, and pine cones, as suggested by magazines at the time.

President Roosevelt (still Vice-President in 1900) was a great conservationist. He felt concern for chopping down live trees for decorating. The nation, at his urging, began better conservation practices for evergreens. To meet the demand for Christmas trees, farmers began planting evergreens as a cash crop. With that, the Christmas tree farm was born.

Whether you take your tree out of storage or find one at a local tree farm or lot, I hope you have fun decorating your tree.  Perhaps you could pop and string some popcorn and think of the farmers in 1900, enjoying the same traditions that we do 111 years later.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Kristen permalink
    December 29, 2015 7:50 am

    Enjoyed sharing this with my children who wondered why our tree (a red cedar from our woods) didn’t look like everyone else’s tree. I love the old style look of the red cedar, which better fits our farming lifestyle.

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