Christmas is a festival known for its creative decorations and lovely atmosphere. With Christmas Trees being the Hallmark of the festival, its tale wasn't as majestic as the tree.
Christmas is a festival known for its creative decorations and lovely atmosphere. From the gingerbread cookies to the rich plum cake and from the early morning rush of unwrapping gifts to the decorating the Christmas tree, One would think that all of these traditions stemmed from a perfect history of love and appreciation for it.
But for the infamous Christmas, its history did not roll out as beautifully as the tree itself. From being banned as a practice during Christmas to being one of the hallmarks of the festival, Here is the story of how the Christmas tree which was once taboo now being treated as an essential practise of any homes celebrating Christmas.
The Taboo of Early Christmas celebrations
In the 1600s it was an offence to set up a Christmas Tree. The state of Massachusetts went even further and started fining people who set up Christmas trees in their households.
But if we were to tell you that Christmas trees, carol singing and even decorating your homes with wreaths, streamers, etc. were something considered as evil or a form of Paganism, you would not believe us. But it’s the truth. In the late 1800s, people who decorated their houses and sang Christmas Carols during Christmas were treated as Pagans.
You may even wonder, where even does the Christmas tree decoration practice originate from? For centuries, this practice was widely and enthusiastically done in Germany. Historical documents even observed that Christmas trees even date back before people starting celebrating Christmas! In Germany during ancient times, Trees were decorated to mark and celebrate the Winter Solstice in December.
In a New York Times in 1883, an author quoted that. ” The German Christmas Tree- A rootless and lifeless corpse- was never worthy of the day.” How incredibly rude! But for the Germans, this did not bother them much as they ventured out into the deep forests and chopped up a Real Christmas tree, to bring home and decorate it.
The global popularity of Christmas Tree took place, thanks to the British Royal Family
An engraving of an event went viral in the mid-1800s which depicted the then Queen Victoria and her spouse, Prince Consort Albert, along with their children standing around a tiny decorated tree on a table. This led a Christmas Tree decoration fever to spread all around England as many homes went in search of the Christmas Trees scientifically known as Araucaria heterophylla or the Norfolk Island Pine into the forests.
Soon this fever spread all over into the United States of America. The white house was laid with many Christmas trees and the most famous ever Christmas Tree set up in the US was in Rockefeller Centre, New York in the 1930s. The Christmas trees
now had become a quintessential part of many American household celebrations.
Soon after, several farmers dedicated their profession to solely growing Christmas trees for people to cut down and take home to celebrate.
Now rises the Christmas Tree's mortal enemy- A Christmas tree
Thibault Chabin along with a group of researchers studied this phenomenon. The study was published in the scientific journal Frontiers. Eighteen participants: seven males and eleven females, who got goosebumps due to music, were made to listen to music and respond to when they felt chills. They were examined with the help of an ECG scan. Chabin says to a media outlet: “Participants of our study were able to precisely indicate “chill-producing” moments in the songs, but most musical chills occurred in many parts of the extracts and not only in the predicted moments.”
“We want to measure how cerebral and physiological activities of multiple participants are coupled in natural, social musical settings,” Chabin further adds.
What researchers discovered was that a set of peculiar electrical impulses were observed in the orbitofrontal cortex when the participants reported chills. This region of the brain is mainly involved with the processing of emotions. More action was also observed in other regions of the brain, such as the supplementary motor region which primarily controls movements. The right temporal lobe manages the auditory processing as well as the fondness for music in the right hemisphere.
“The fact that we can measure this phenomenon with EEG brings opportunities for study in other contexts, in scenarios that are more natural and within groups. This represents a good perspective for musical emotion research,” Chabin declares.
Chabin adds, “What is most intriguing is that music seems to have no biological benefit to us. However, the implication of dopamine and the reward system in the processing of musical pleasure suggests an ancestral function for music.”
Chabin assumes that maybe music was once an ancestral function. It doesn’t exactly help in the survival of humans but helps them to continue to progress through their lifetime. As communities can form bonds with each other over the love of music. This can be seen during music festivals or jam sessions. However, this ancestral function has yet not been discovered.
Authors of the research were also of the opinion that the way our brain works during music may connect the ability of our brain to predict future outcomes. The brain releases more dopamine as Humans anticipate the arrival of something exciting. This may help in understanding our brain further.
However, just when everything was going fine for the Christmas tree a problem arose. According to one of the people from an extract of The Museum of Classic Chicago Television: “In our search for the perfect Christmas tree, we went back to the forest to see an original and duplicated it.
Today, at least 82% of the Christmas trees displayed are artificial. Only a tiny 18% of Christmas trees are real. This has led to very slow and plateauing growth in the purchase of Real Christmas as its counterpart the Artificial Christmas trees, skyrocketed in sales.
This change of preference is surprising since, during the earlier celebrations of Christmas, Artificial trees were seen as ugly and weren’t purchased much. The first Artificial Christmas Trees were manufactured in Germany in the 1800s. Some even companies even started using Toilet Brush Bristles to make faux Christmas Trees. There is an ongoing struggle between the manufacturers of Christmas Trees vs. The Farmers of Christmas Trees.
According to Matt Harmon, the founder and CEO of balsam hill and it’s kind of become the leading brand of faux Christmas trees what really helped the trees take off I think is when people went to a different needle technology that looked more realistic at balsam hill we call it a true needle and that’s polyethene moulded branches.”
“They look much more like a real tree and so I think that really helped the conversion from kind of the spindly sad-looking charlie brown artificial tree of the early 70s to the more modern tree today the one other thing I’d say is from a safety standpoint most places in public buildings you have to have a faux tree for fire safety artificial trees looked like real trees combine that with convenience and longevity and it makes for a formula real tree.”
The inspiration for Harmon came from the allergies, people had due to real Christmas trees. He said: “So that was really the inspiration for starting balsam hill was having a real looking Christmas tree like the one behind me for people who had allergies and
couldn’t have real trees.”
However, According to George Richardson, The co-owner of Richardson Farms in Spring glove, Illinois said: ” definitely fake trees has impacted the market for real trees because it was very convenient for people to just go up into the attic or down to the basement pull that tree out of the box and you didn’t have to drive to the farm or the retail lot and bundle up the kids.”
Speaking about hoe clients reached out to him to complain about Christmas Tree allergies, Richardson said: ” they said oh that they’re full of mould and mildew and gotta affect your allergies like where’d that come from this is a 100 natural treat. “
The Debate of the Christmas Tree's impact on the environment
According to Harmon: “If you think about reduced reuse recycle the second thing is to reuse and that’s really what an artificial tree is something that you reuse year after year.”
However, Richardson said: ” Christmas trees are a crop grown by farmers specifically for this purpose and 100 recyclable, renewable sustainable resource.”
According to Dr John Kaser from the carbon trust in an interview with the BBC in 2016 said: “A six and a half foot fake tree has a carbon footprint that is equivalent to 40 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions which is more than twice that of a tree that ends up in a landfill and more than 10 times of a tree that is burnt after use.
You’d have to use an artificial tree for at least 10 years to keep the environmental impact lower than a real tree.”
When asked Harmon about this, he said: ” If you just look at a weekly drive that the average person takes that can have a higher impact than having a Christmas tree and on the actual subjective Christmas experience no this tree behind me it’s pre-lit you don’t have to kind of bring the tree home every year cut the trunk offset it up you don’t have to water it every day.”
Richardson said: “Everyday people they thank us for having a Christmas tree farm that they can come to cut a tree now.”
While both sides make convincing statements about their Christmas Trees, what one cannot deny is that Real Christmas trees have a lesser impact on the environment, but real Christmas trees can never be a global consideration since tropical nations like Brazil, India and other regions like the Middle East have little to no access to real Christmas trees due to lack of environmental AND farming conditions.
Artificial trees are a feasible option for people living in flats as they can be easily dismantled, but one certainly misses the essence of chopping down and bringing home a real Christmas Tree, which takes around 7-10 years to mature.
The possible Bright Future of Real Christmas trees
The National Christmas Tree Association in the US had sought for a petty method for taking down and hampering the Artificial tree market. A video game released in 2004 known as ‘the attack of the mutant artificial trees’ to target the artificial market, however, as of now, things are fine between both the industries.
However, as Climate Change is now causing intense and longer wildfires, several Christmas trees face the risk of being completely charred. There have been cases in the past where the farms have been subjected to intense wildfires, thus causing a major loss for the farmer and his family. The Norfolk Island Pine trees are also threatened to extinction, however, their population is rising.
Although the percentage of Christmas Trees affected was small, it caused a major impact on farmers who lost them to the wildfires. Most of the Christmas tree farmers are quite old, with their average age being 64. These farmers rarely have their successive generations taking over their business and taking care of Christmas Trees. You may think this is a dying art.
But thanks to the Millenial and their successive generations like the Gen Z, there has been a sudden rise and balance in the purchase of real Christmas trees. According to Doug Hundley, a spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association, he said: “After 20 years have finally been able to rise for the farmer to a point where it is profitable again.
“We probably have had an increase in the market because of the millennial generation who have been very outdoors and organic and that age group is marrying and having children now.”
In 2018, the real Christmas tree sales in the US saw a big jump of 32.8 million purchased trees. This was 5 million more trees purchased than in 2017.
So while the artificial trees are still in Demand Globally, for their convenience and longevity, the real Christmas Trees are slowly picking up the pace and reaching more homes than ever before. Who knows this resurgence could lead to global market demand and thus spell a happy ending for the real Christmas Trees?