Oh Christmas Tree

Garden Clippings for December 9, 2017

Long ago, probably before the birth of Christ, people hung evergreen stems and boughs in their homes in winter as a symbol of longevity in the expectation that spring growth would soon follow.

The idea of an actual Christmas tree stems back to the 16th century when in Germany, people made wooden frames, covering them with evergreen boughs.  That was soon followed by cutting down real conifers that were usually about 4 feet high.

The tannenbaum was born.

Christmas trees were introduced to USA in the mid 1800’s, when Germans and other Europeans began immigrating to the Eastern States.  And as one might expect from Americans, Christmas trees soon became super-sized, stretching from floor to ceiling.

Trees were usually decorated with apples, cookies, nuts and popcorn.   Candles were often added and lit on Christmas Day.

When electricity arrived candles were replaced by small light bulbs, intended to resemble stars in the night sky.  In short order strings of lights were made that were smaller, producing less heat and using less hydro.

Fresh cut Christmas trees is big business.  In Canada, the province producing most Christmas trees is Quebec, followed by Nova Scotia and Ontario.  One of North America’s biggest Christmas tree growers is Sommerville Nurseries in Alliston, with more than 2,000 acres of production.

Sommerville’s trees are grown from seed under careful growing conditions.  Once the seedling is 3 or 4 years old, they are transplanted to the field where they are grown for another 8 to 12 years.  Sommerville grows all kinds of conifers including varieties of Spruce, Pine, Fir and Balsam.  Until about a decade ago, Scotch Pines were most popular but the top spot is now taken by Balsam and Fir.

The fresh cut Christmas tree business was shaken by its roots with the introduction of artificial Christmas trees introduced about 50 years ago.  Mountain King, nicknamed “bottle brush”, quickly became the industry leader with its thick dark green branches that needed to be inserted into holes along a central main stem.  Mountain King trees were expensive and their boxes were the size of coffins.

Barcana took the life-like Christmas tree industry by storm when it introduced the hinged tree which was a cinch to assemble and took up much less storage space.  Trees were expensive at around $300 to $400, but were of very good quality and quite realistic looking.  Factories in North America including a production facility in Quebec, were busy making trees as quickly as consumers would place orders.

The Barcana heyday was short lived when the design of hinged trees was taken to China where production was cheap and quality followed suit.  Barcana is still in business, headquartered in Texas, but the production facility in Quebec has long been shuttered.

The latest but not greatest movement in the artificial tree business is the pre-lit tree with its strings of lights installed at the factory rather than in your home.  Unfortunately their quality is  not up to snuff, often with half the lights failing.

I will quietly admit that for a few years, in the interest of convenience our family put up a life like tree.  I am now happy to report that we have gone back to the real thing.