The origin of a Christmas tree is very interesting. The Germans where the first in starting the tradition around the 16th century where devout Christians brought trees into their homes and decorated them with nuts, apples and various cookies. Lit candles where later added, a tradition started by Martin Luther during an evening walk when he saw the stars shimmering through the pine trees. To replicate that image he added candles to the family tree. Having lived in Germany and spent Christmas there in the early 60’s I was surprised that this was still done then with no instances of tree fires in the homes, something I’m sure here in the states would no doubt be frowned upon.
The first display of a Christmas tree in the United States was in the 1830’s when the German settlers of Pennsylvania brought over the tradition. To many Americans this was a very odd tradition indeed and was seen as pagan symbols.
This idea of the tree being a pagan symbol dates back to the New England Puritans that held Christmas as very sacred. They penalized any frivolity and tried to stamp out any pagan mockery of the observance like Christmas carols, decorated trees and joyful expressions of the sacred event. In Massachusetts laws were passed making the observance of December 25, other than a church service, an offence punishable by incarceration and fined for hanging decorations. They were not a very happy group.
Around 1846 the beloved Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, a German, made the Christmas tree fashionable and soon became accepted in Britain and fashion conscious East Coast American Society. The Christmas tree now became a traditional symbol of this festive season here in the states and around the world. By 1890 Christmas trees became very popular and it was observed that the European immigrants had small trees usually around four feet high. Like everything else with the American psyche bigger is better, Americans had trees from floor to ceiling.
Now to the question at hand, natural verses artificial. From the 16th century until now, it does not seem to me that there has been a catastrophic environmental impact by the use of trees. And today, modern Christmas tree farms are like any farm where the crop is rotated and is grown specifically for consumption.
The first Christmas tree farm was established in 1901 but all during the 1930’s and 1940’s the majority of people still harvested trees in the wild causing environmental concerns. But by the end of World War 11 and during the 1950’s tree farms prospered and by the early 21st century 98 % of natural Christmas trees originated from Christmas tree farms. An alternative to having a cut tree is to have a potted one that after the holidays can be planted in ones yard or donated to a park. After the season is over, discarded trees are mulched and, among other uses, can be used as soil erosion barriers thus completing the tree’s life cycle.
The Christmas tree is a tradition that has come down the centuries as a symbol of a festive and happy season. With dedicated tree farms, it can be enjoyed for many more centuries to come without harm to the environment.