Celebrate this Holiday Season with Trees

Organization offers tips for buying and giving holiday trees.

The National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C.

The National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C.

iStockphoto.com/Klaas Lingbeek-van Kranen

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Washington, D.C. – When President Bush lights the National Christmas Tree this year, he continues a long-standing tradition that began with a gift from American Forests in 1924. That gift, accepted by President and Mrs. Coolidge, was a 40-year-old, 35-foot Norway spruce, and it became the first living symbol of Christmas for the entire nation – the National Community Christmas Tree. Today, officials predict 30 million to 35 million families will bring home a cut Christmas tree this year. In addition, Christmas trees provide benefits from the time they are planted until after the holiday season when they can be recycled.

For decades, American Forests has encouraged the commercial growing of Christmas trees and the planting of living trees. The gift of a living National Christmas Tree was American Forests’ way of urging the use of living Christmas trees as a conservation measure. Before the Christmas tree industry, people cut trees from the wild, sometimes illegally, and always with little consideration for the continuance of the forest.

The Benefits of Christmas Trees

It takes a Christmas tree an average of five to 16 years to grow, and as they grow, Christmas trees support life by absorbing carbon dioxide and other gases while giving off fresh oxygen. Every acre of Christmas trees planted gives off enough oxygen to meet the needs of 18 people. Today in the United States, enough Christmas trees are planted to supply oxygen to 18 million people a day. Also, the farms that grow Christmas trees stabilize soil, protect water supplies and provide a refuge for wildlife while creating a scenic view. Often, Christmas trees are grown on soil that will not support any other crops. In addition, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, when one Christmas tree is cut down, one or two are planted in its place – an average of 56 million trees each year.

Keeping a Live Christmas Tree

American Forests recommends enjoying live Christmas trees because of the many environmental benefits of planting trees. Buying a live tree also makes your holiday “green” go further! If you have space for a “ball and burlapped” or containerized tree, and can provide the extra care this type of tree requires, it’s well worth the additional effort.

First, decide where to plant your tree, and prepare the area. Remember, your Christmas tree will be a full-grown tree someday. To care for your living Christmas tree, keep the root ball of your replantable tree moist at all times. After 7-10 days of indoor appreciation, move the tree to a protected place outdoors for several days to help it make the adjustment from a warm house.

Your local nursery should be able to answer any questions you have concerning the care of your tree. As soon as you can, plant the tree in the hole you previously prepared (if your area is frost-prone). If you don’t have the space, check with a local tree-planting group to see if it has a program to accommodate your tree.

Purchasing, Care, and Disposal of a Cut Christmas tree: The Seven Basic Rules

  • Buy a fresh tree, checking the condition of the needles – fresh needles bend rather than break with gentle pressure.
  • Shake your tree gently to check for loss of needles. Losing needles may mean the tree is too dry and could be dangerous for your home.
  • Check the cut end of the trunk. A fresh tree should be sticky with sap rather than smooth and dry.
  • Trim the end of the trunk before placing it in water. This allows a fresh route for water to travel into the trunk.
  • Check the water level every other day, adding more if needed. If the water level drops below the trunk, a seal will form, preventing the tree from absorbing water.
  • Keep your tree away from heat sources such as a heating duct or television set.
  • Recycle your tree. If you are not sure how, call your local municipal trash collection office for options. Mulch your tree for the garden. Never burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace (the pitch content in the bark and needles can cause them to burst into flames from the intense heat).

The Christmas Tree Tradition

Trees haven't always been a part of the Christmas tradition. Some historians believe the Egyptians and Romans used some form of an evergreen to decorate their homes. It is generally agreed that the first use of a tree as part of the Christian Christmas celebration was started more than 400 years ago by the Germans. Eventually, the Christmas tree came to the United States by Hessian mercenaries, paid to fight for the British during the Revolutionary War. In 1804, soldiers stationed at a fort near Chicago hauled trees to their barracks during Christmas, and in 1842, a German named Charles Minnegerode introduced the custom of decorated Christmas trees in Williamsburg, Virginia. His tree was described as being "splendidly decorated" with strings of popcorn, nuts and lighted candles. By 1900, one in five American families decorated trees during Christmas, and by 1930, the tree had become a nearly universal part of the American Christmas tradition.

Give the Gift of Trees

To give the gift of trees this year, plant trees with American Forests to restore damaged forest ecosystems around the world. Planting trees give us cleaner air and clearer water. It builds life in our communities and provides animals with homes and nourishment.

Contact American Forests to plant trees in the name of people on your holiday gift list, and the recipient will receive a personalized certificate. Choose to plant trees on the hurricane-damaged areas of the Gulf coast, of wildfire-burned areas of California, or to protect the Mexican habitat of the Monarch butterfly. Visit the Web site, or call 800-545-8733.

American Forests’ mission since 1875 is to grow a healthier world with trees by working with communities on local efforts that restore and maintain forest ecosystems. The group’s work encompasses planting trees, calculating the value of urban forests, fostering environmental education, and improving public policy for trees at the national level. The goal is to plant 100 million trees by 2020.