1. Christmas trees are evergreen conifers
This just means that Christmas trees produce cones (that makes them conifers), and they don’t drop all their leaves in autumn (this makes them evergreen). Not all conifers are evergreen, and not all evergreen trees are conifers. But all Christmas trees are both! At least they are traditionally, anyway!
2. They’re ancient trees
Conifers are a big and important group of trees made up of lots of different species. And they’ve been around for a REALLY long time – at least as long as the Carboniferous period around 300 million years ago. And Christmas has only been around for 2000 or so years – which is a tiny fraction of the time they’ve spent on Earth. In fact we worked it out – Christianity has only been around for 0.000674% of the time Christmas trees have been around for!
3. Romans liked Christmas trees, too
A long time before Christmas, Romans and other pagans used to celebrate Saturnalia (also in December). In fact, it’s likely that Christmas came out of Saturnalia! Christmas trees were also used to celebrate the earlier pagan version, and they decorated temples with conifers and ate big meals and gave presents underneath them. Sound familiar?
4. Upside down trees?
Another very old tradition – probably dating back to Early Medieval Europe – was to hang Christmas trees upside down! This was just the way things were done back then, and they’d probably think we were weird for doing it the way we do. In fact, in some places in Eastern Europe they still do this, and the tradition might be coming back! Even Ariana Grande did it one year!
5. Ukrainian spider webs
In Ukraine, its traditional to decorate your Christmas tree with spider web decorations. It’s not meant to be a scary tradition, but comes from an old folk tale of a spider who helped a poor widow decorate her tree with sparkling webs. In some versions of the story the webs even turn to gold and silver!
6. Latvia vs Estonia
Christmas is a time for good cheer and understanding. But also for a centuries-long feud between Latvia and Estonia! Each country claims to have been the first to have decorated a Christmas tree. Latvia says they did it in 1510, which Estonia says they did it in 1441. We might never know the truth, and of course it’s possible they’re both wrong!
7. They did what to the tree?
In the Christmas tree celebration that Latvia claims was the first ever, they did something us modern folk would consider a bit weird. They set the tree up in the town square, decorated the tree with paper flowers, danced around it and then set the whole thing on fire. Right. Fair enough.
8. The first electric lights
Electric Christmas lights were invented by the same person who invented the electric lightbulb – Thomas Edison! But it was his colleague Edward Johnson who first thought to put them on a Christmas Tree. They even decided to show off the blinking red, white and blue lights by putting the tree on a rotating stand! Nobody had even seen anything like it before! Well, it was 1882!
9. Christmas trees are farmed
Because so many families have Christmas trees every year, there’s a big industry to keep the supply up. In the USA 25-30 million trees are cut down and sold as Christmas trees every year, out of a total number of 350 million that are still growing. All in, Christmas tree farms take up twice as much space as Chicago. So there’s big money in Christmas trees!
10. There are tree farms all over the USA
Almost all US states have Christmas tree farms somewhere – all except New Mexico, South Dakota and Wyoming. That said, the vast majority of US Christmas trees come from Oregon or North Carolina. Over here in Britain, we’ve also got a lot of tree farms – which you can often visit and pick up whichever one you fancy!
11. They take 10 years to grow
Farming Christmas trees takes a lot of planning, because they take about 10 years to reach a good enough size to sell. So if you want to get into the tree business, you’ll need to start growing them now – and not expect any money back for years!
12. The earliest fake ones would have looked weird
Artificial Christmas trees have been around since the 19th Century, and the first ones were made in German out of wire and… wait for it… dyed goose feathers! The wire was wrapped around a main trunk and shaped a bit like a tree. As weird as they sound they did end up being quite popular in the USA!
13. You can make your own!
Of course you can grow your own tree, if you’re up for waiting 10 years. But you can also make your very own one out of something else – like the giant sandcastle tree that residents of Florida make every year! Or there’s even this gigantic tree made of lobster traps! Christmas is about fun, so you can start whatever new traditions you like!
14. There’s even a Christmas log
In Catalonia, there’s a tradition where children celebrate Christmas with a Christmas log, as well as a tree. They usually draw a funny face on the log, and feed it sweets and snacks every day until Christmas Eve. Then, the tradition goes, the kids will beat the log with sticks until it “poops out” all the sweets it ate. Yes, really!
15. We shouldn’t waste them!
Christmas trees are living things so you should think about what happens to them once Christmas is over. The best thing to do is to plant them in your garden, so you can enjoy them for years to come. The next best thing to do is reuse them – they can be turned into compost or even used to protect against flooding in some parts of the UK. The worst thing you can do is just chuck them in the bin! Because Christmas trees are for life… not just for Christmas!