The Quirky Quote
I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. ~ Maya Angelou
The Shameless Request
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The Quirky Facts
The custom of cutting evergreen pine boughs – or in warmer climes, palm fronds – and bringing them into our homes as garlands and wreaths is an ancient custom that has its roots in paganism and was associated with the winter solstice, when the Earth begins to turn its tilt again toward bringing us longer hours of daylight. The symbolism of the evergreens included eternal life, peace and light, kindness, and a means to ward off evil spirits. It was a custom of ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Hebrews, Romans, Celts, and Vikings – in other words, widespread.
The Christmas tree as we know it today seems to have originated in Germany in the 16th
century. At that time, many plays were performed which told the story of Adam and Eve and often featured a “Paradise tree” hung with apples. What influence these had on celebrations of Jesus’s birth is unclear, but by 1605 “historical records
suggest the inhabitants of Strasburg ‘set up fir trees in the parlours … and hang thereon roses cut out of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets, etc.’” By
the mid-1800s, thanks in large part to English Queen Victoria’s influence, Christmas trees became popular in North America. Decades later, Thomas Edison’s assistants had the idea of adding electric lights in place of burning candles, and after that, there was no stopping decorating ingenuity. (Blown glass blob fish, anyone?)
My point in all this is that aside from the name, Christmas trees are not a Christian symbol, and the joy they bring should be celebrated by people of all faiths or no faith. Beauty is a universal pleasure.
The Quirky Observations
But while I admire beauty, my feelings about Christmas trees are mixed. I love the smell of pine and was dismayed one year when my family opted for an aluminum tree lit only by a color wheel rotating beneath it, because lights on an aluminum tree were a short circuit fire hazard. (In defense of my parents, the trees were mass-produced in the town where we were living then.) On the other hand, as I’ve grown older, it seems cruel to chop down a tree which could have grown for many more years, then bring it indoors for a few weeks of festivities before casting it aside again for a new life (at best) as mulch, so I do approve of artificial trees that can
be reused from year to year and am happy to get my fill of pine scent from a candle. And people who buy living trees for the holiday and replant them when it’s over have my admiration, too.
But what to make of giant trees cut for millions to enjoy like New York’s Rockefeller Center tree? I have mixed feelings for those, too. You can learn more about the Rockefeller tree in the trivia quiz below, but I can empathize with the woman who said that while she was honored that the tree in her yard was chosen, when it was cut, she said, “Oh my, I don’t know if the tree wants to go.”
The Quiz - Rockefeller Center Tree
The Christmas tree erected each year at Rockefeller Center in New York City is the most iconic holiday tree in the U.S., viewed by millions – hundreds of thousands of people each day – during the month it is displayed. Check out the resources listed for more information, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy learning more through this quiz.
1.The first Rockefeller Center tree was put up spontaneously in 1931 by the workers who were erecting the building behind it, supposedly in gratitude for having jobs during the Great Depression. Among its decorations were tin can ornaments. (Picture from Tishman Speyer)
True ___ False ___
2. The first official Rockefeller Center tree was put up in 1933 and has lit up the plaza every year since then.
True ___ False ___
3. Almost all of the trees have been Norway Spruces, because they are wind-resistant and tend to grow straight and tall. But even as full as they are, branches are added to the tree.
True ___ False ___
4. Norway spruces reach maturity at about 85 years, and most of the chosen trees are close to that age, but if left uncut, they could last another 100 years.
True ___ False ___
5. Most of the trees have been 65 – 85 feet tall. That’s a daunting size to stand beneath, but it is still dwarfed by the 872-foot (266 meters) tall Rockefeller building itself. (Image Source: Unsplash / Ibrahim Boran)
Although the 1999 tree was 100 feet tall, the logistics of moving a tree of that size from the place it is cut – often hundreds of miles away – through back roads and ultimately the streets of New York City are too complex to repeat yearly.
True ___ False ___
6. Although lights and a star on top are the tree’s only decorations, it might be easier to understand why it takes days to prepare the tree when you realize that it boasts 50,000 LED lights. (Kinda puts your own frustrations with lighting the family tree in perspective.) How many miles long are those strings of light?
a. 3 ___
b. 5 ___
c. 7 ___
7. Since 2018, the tree has been topped with a 900-pound star with 70 glass spokes covered in 3 million Swarovski-crystals. (Photo: Nicole Saraniero for Untapped Cities)
Not the kind of ornament you want to risk dropping, it is valued at:
a. $500,000 ___
b. $1 million ___
c. $1.5 million ___
The Featured Charity
If, as I’ve noted, I have mixed feelings about Christmas trees, one thing I find uplifting is the fact that The Rockefeller Center tree, when it is dismantled, since 2007, has been milled into lumber to help a family build their Habitat for Humanity
home. Tishman Speyer, the owner and operator of Rockefeller Center, generously donates that lumber
. Can you imagine the spirit of goodwill that must permeate a Habitat for Humanity home that was partially created from a tree that awed literally millions of people?
So this week my charity of choice is Habitat for Humanity
, (Photo above from them)
with its vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Since its founding in 1976, Habitat has helped an incredible 39 million+ people around the globe build or improve the place they call home. In fiscal year 2021, they have helped more than 4.2 million people, and an additional 8.5 million gained the potential to improve their housing conditions through training and advocacy.
You can donate nationally here
, but it is operating in all U.S. states, all Canadian provinces, and over 70 other countries. Enter your zip code here
to find the nearest local branch where you might donate your time or money. And if you are unable to help with the building, look for other ways to help, such as providing snacks to the volunteers or contributing items to a Habitat ReStore
- What are your thoughts about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, other public holiday trees, or Christmas trees in general?
- Do you have any special Christmas tree memories? Share them.
- If you don’t celebrate the December holidays with a Christmas tree, do you have other traditions or rituals that are meaningful to you? What are they?
Answers to the Quiz
1. True. Garlands of cranberries and paper also decorated the 20-foot tree.
2. False. It remained unlit during World War II because of blackout regulations.
3. True. Virtually every year.
4. True. If they are not ravaged by disease, Norway Spruces can live to be 220 years old.
5. True. Understandable, even if they do move the tree at night.
6. 5 miles. For a bit of perspective, that’s 5/6 of the perimeter of Central Park.
7. c. $1.5 million