Yule tree history grows

What would Christmas be without the Christmas tree?

According to the DeKalb County Extension Office, the Christmas tree has a long past and tradition in holiday culture.

Christmas and decorated evergreens are synonymous today. The decorated Christmas tree has been traced back to about the year 1500, in the province of Alsace, along the upper Rhine River. Alsace was part of Germany then.

Christmas trees have been decorated in some fashion since the custom began. Apples and wafers, paper or cloth roses and sugar candy composed early decorations. Also added were candles, ribbons, stars for the top, toys, dolls, glittering beads and other ornaments.

The custom of Christmas trees was introduced in the United States during the War of Independence by Hessian troops. An early account tells of a Christmas tree set up in 1804 by American soldiers at Fort Dearborn in Chicago. Most other early accounts in the United States were among the German settlers in eastern Pennsylvania.

By 1850, the Christmas tree had become fashionable in the eastern states. Until this time, it had been considered a quaint, foreign custom.

Franklin Pierce was the first president to introduce the Christmas tree to the White House in 1856, for a group of Washington Sunday school children. The first national Christmas tree was lighted in 1923.

Christmas trees have been sold commercially in the United States since about 1850. Until fairly recently, all Christmas trees come from the forest.

Today, about 80 percent are plantation-grown on Christmas tree farms. On these farms, new trees are periodically planted to replace those marketed.

Weed control measures are taken to reduce competition between growing trees and weeds. Early each summer, the trees are shaped to achieve more appealing forms.

After six to 10 years of knowledgeable attention, the trees are ready for market.

Selling directly to the consumer has become a major market for many Christmas tree farms. Some tree farms offer consumers the chance to select their own trees while the trees are still growing in the plantation.

Some area tree farms include ones in Aurora, Capron, Downers Grove, Kirkland, LaSalle, Malta, Oregon, Oswego, Plainfield, Plano, Sugar Grove and Woodstock.

The extension service recommends wearing boots, hats, gloves and warm clothing if going to cut down a Christmas tree. Also, people should bring saws, ropes to tie the trees to cars and something to wrap the trees in so they don’t dry out during the trip home.

Once the tree is home, use water to keep it fresh. Current research shows that plain water is as good as—if not better than—most additives.