WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Oh, Christmas Tree.
What would the holiday season be without this object that has played a part in likely millions of families’ Christmas celebrations? For many families, Christmas begins the moment the decorations are placed on every branch, and the lights go on.
Many families still seek out a live tree every year for their Christmas celebrations. However, many opt for an artificial tree that is evergreen and rarely, if ever, drops needles.
We know the tradition of a “Christmas” tree predates Christianity. A tradition eventually adopted by European Christians as the religion spread across the continent.
So, what about the artificial Christmas tree? How did that start?
Well, it depends a bit on your interpretation. The first “artificial tree” was likely born among German immigrants in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1747. These were tree-shaped pyramids made of wood and lit by candles.
The first artificial trees that really attempted to mimic the appearance of a traditional Christmas Tree began in the late 1800s in Germany. This was out of necessity as the country was facing a shortage of Christmas trees due to deforestation.
These first artificial trees were made from goose feathers that were dyed green and attached to dowel rods with wire. They became so popular they eventually spread to the United States.
In 1930, the British Addis Housewares Company created an artificial tree using brush bristles. The bristles, which were the same as the ones used for their line of toilet brushes, were dyed green.
The first aluminum trees were manufactured in Chicago in 1958, with production later moving to Wisconsin. They were manufactured through the 1970s.
A “Charlie Brown Christmas” is often cited as the reason for the decline in sales, but there are a lot of factors that likely played a role. For starters, they were incredibly expensive, costing the equivalent of hundreds of dollars.
They were also made out of aluminum, which is a pretty good conductor of electricity. So, the risk of shock or even electrocution was a real possibility.
Two years before the release of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” President Kennedy had been assassinated, and there was significant social unrest. Selma had just happened, and the Vietnam War was underway.
So, it could be argued that the show was merely a barometer for America which was seeking the reassurance of tradition and nostalgia. Either way, after it first aired, sales began to plummet, and the manufacturer of the American aluminum tree stopped production.
These days, most artificial trees are made from PVC plastic, which is fire-retardent, but not fire-resistant, meaning it’s been treated in such a way as it will put itself out if it catches on fire, making it safer than a traditional Christmas Tree. You can find them with built-in lights, music, and/or mp3 players.
They can be designed to look like a variety of pine and fir trees, have realistic-looking needles, and have artificial snow on their branches. There are even fiber optic trees that can be programmed to display a variety of different colors.