Posts tagged ‘holidays’

The History of the Christmas Tree

What is the history of the Christmas tree? As far as common historical accounts are concerned, it all started with customs of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Scandinavians and other cultures that displayed evergreen trees, boughs and garlands during the winter. These decorations were symbols of everlasting life and reminders of the growth of spring, and they were also believed to ward off evil spirits, ghosts and illness.

The Christmas tree tradition as we now know it is thought to have begun in Germany in the 16th century when devout Christians began bringing trees into their homes and decorating them. Early decorations included nuts, fruits, baked goods and paper flowers. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther was the first person to add lights to the tree. During a walk home one evening, he was struck by the twinkling stars through the evergreen trees and decided to recreate that feeling at home for his wife and children by erecting a tree and decorating it with candles.

Victorian Christmas Tree

The Illustrated London News print of Queen Victoria and her family around the Christmas tree was revamped for America and featured in the popular Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1850.

In the early 19th century, the custom of the Christmas tree began to spread to European nobility. It wasn’t until 1846, however, that the tradition gained widespread public adoption. In that year, the popular British royals, Queen Victoria and her German husband, Prince Albert, were sketched for The Illustrated London News standing next to a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle with their children. Being popular amongst the British people, the practice became very fashionable and soon spread to the east coast of the United States. Due to this rise in popularity, tree ornaments were manufactured in large numbers, and U.S. patents for electric tree lights (1882) and metal ornament hooks (1892) were issued.

Christmas tree on beach,

Underwood & Underwood. Santa Claus on beach with swimmers splayed around Christmas tree, 1927. Image courtesy of National Museum of American History Archives Center.

With their increasing popularity and acceptance, along with readily available ornaments and electric lights, Christmas trees began appearing in town squares and other public places and became commonplace in private homes.

Smithsonian Castle holiday tree, 2010.

Smithsonian Institution Castle holiday tree, 2010. Photo by Eric Long.

The most popular species of trees for the holidays are Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, balsam fir, and white pine. Although artificial trees are popular with some, growing, living trees clean the air and water, trap atmospheric carbon, and provide wildlife habitat. When they are ready to be discarded, they can be turned into mulch and recycled back into the environment.

-Greg Huse, Smithsonian Gardens arborist

December 18, 2013 at 7:30 am 1 comment

Holidays at the Smithsonian

Most of us begin to think about holiday decorations as it gets closer to Thanksgiving. This is not the case for our Smithsonian Gardens Interiors staff! As soon as the holiday decorations are taken down in January, we’re already making plans for next year’s holiday decorations.

Poinsettias at the Smithsonian Gardens greenhouse facility.

Poinsettias at the Smithsonian Gardens greenhouse facility.

Poinsettia types and numbers have to be decided on by April so that the orders can be placed. Tree, wreath, and garland decorations have to be determined by May so that those supplies can be purchased. The poinsettia plugs arrive and are planted in July (taking a full 4-5 months for us to finish, the poinsettias are our longest growing annual crop in the greenhouse). Only a couple of the holiday trees on display are artificial, but the rest are real and are selected especially for us, coming from a tree farm in Pennsylvania. Sometimes our staff even travels to hand pick the trees.

Holidays decorations being prepared for the National Museum of American History.

Holiday decorations being prepared for the National Museum of American History.

Next there’s the holiday prep: all of the tags have to be removed from each of the new ornaments, wire hangers need to be attached, some decorations need to be assembled and wired together, bows need to be made, and wreaths and garland need to be decorated.

Some of this prep work starts as early as October. Then there’s the planning, which involves deciding which day to install the decorations, and coordinating with each of the museums to make sure that we will not interfere with what is going on in the museums on that particular day.

The Smithsonian Castle holiday tree.

The Smithsonian Institution Castle holiday tree.

Our first tree, the Castle Tree, was installed the week of Thanksgiving.  The rest of the decorations will be up this week.

Please take some time to walk around and visit each of our museums and appreciate all of the hard work and planning that goes into the holiday decorations.  All of this work would not be possible without the help of our volunteers and other Smithsonian Gardens staff who help with prepping the décor and decorating the trees.

-Alexandra Thompson & Shannon Hill

Happy Holidays from the Smithsonian Gardens Staff!

Smithsonian Gardens staff posing with the National Museum of American History tree.

Smithsonian Gardens staff posing with the National Museum of Natural History tree.

Festive decorations in the Ripley Garden.

Festive decorations in the Ripley Garden.

National Museum of American History holiday tree.

The holiday tree at the National Museum of American History features glass ornaments created by the Luke Adams Glass Studio of Boston, Massachusetts.

Poinsettia Tree

A tree made of pink poinsettia plants at the Smithsonian Castle.

December 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm Leave a comment

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