Herald-Whig

That Christmas tree in your living room has quite a legacy

Posted: Nov. 24, 2017 8:20 am

One of the most interesting traditions of the Christmas season is the Christmas tree itself.

We often take that brightly decorated Douglas fir in the corner of the living room for granted, but it actually has a rich holiday history. I think you might find some of these items interesting before decorating your tree later this month:

º The tinsel many like to use to decorate their Christmas trees has been made of plastic since 1971. It was formerly made of lead, but in 1971 the government concluded that the tinsel was a health risk, and manufacturers voluntarily started using plastic. (I grew up in the 1960s. How in the world did I ever survive?)

º Christmas trees can remove dust and pollen from the air. (Maybe this balanced out the lead tinsel on the trees.)

º A year ago, the average price paid for a real Christmas tree was $74.70. The average cost of a fake tree was $98.70. (Until about 15 years ago, our family always had a real tree. Now, we use the artificial variety, and I have to admit it has not taken anything away from the holiday. A handsomely made artificial tree looks just as nice -- if properly decorated -- than its "real" counterpart. My wife, Kathy, is the tree decorator, and she does a marvelous job. She also has come to love the artificial tree, especially since there is no post-Christmas mess of pine needles to clean up.)

º About 80 percent of artificial trees worldwide are manufactured in China. (Why doesn't this surprise me?)

º President Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree-lighting ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923. (No, I was not there. And no, I was not born yet.)

º In 1963, the National Christmas Tree was not lit until Dec. 22 because of a national 30-day period of mourning after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (That period of time is still etched in my mind. I still remember those first days, weeks and months after the assassination like they were yesterday.)

º Using small candles to light a Christmas tree dates back to the middle of the 17th century. (Apparently, safety was not a big deal at the time.)

º Thomas Edison's assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees in 1882. Christmas tree lights were first mass-produced in 1890. (I wonder whether that Johnson fellow was actually the one who invented electricity, too.)

º The official Christmas tree tradition at Rockefeller Center in New York City began in 1933. Since 2004, the tree has been topped with a 550-pound Swarovski Crystal star. And since 2007, the tree has been lighted with 30,000 energy-efficient LED lights that are powered by solar panels. (I wonder where they store that massive star and all of those lights the other 11 months of the year.)

º The first decorated Christmas tree was in Riga, Latvia, in 1510. (And once again, no, I was not there.)