Christmas Trees care tips

So, you shop for your perfect Christmas Tree, if you haven’t done so already. All you need now is just a little guidance to help you choose the right one.

As you shop, keep in mind that the right tree will feel pliable and soft, even on varieties with stiff needles, such as spruces.

  • Bang the bottom of the tree on a solid surface once or twice to see if the needles are ready to fall, it’s okay if some brown or yellow needles drop, but the tree shouldn’t shed any green ones.
  • Bring your tree stand to make sure the trunk will fit.
  • Freshly cut Christmas trees generally hold their needles the best, so cutting your own is the only way to guarantee its freshness.
  • For a list of farms in Maryland and Virginia where you can cut your own tree, check or

Frazier firs have open branching, allowing easy decorating.

  • After you bring the tree home, use a bow saw to cut two inches off the bottom of the trunk, and place the tree in water in your garage or another location close to the house.
  • When you are ready to bring the tree indoors, make a fresh cut on the bottom of the trunk.
  • Introduce the tree to room temperature one day before decorating, allowing its branches to open completely.
  • Set it in a stand that’s big enough to provide stability and large enough to hold water for the tree’s daily needs.
  • Use a hand pruner or pruning saw to shape the tree for a balanced appearance and to make room underneath for gifts.
  • Make sure to cut away from your body and from other people while pruning.

There are several important safety tips for homeowners to remember.

  • Trees should be kept well away from fireplaces and at least three feet from any heating sources, and they should not be placed near exits.
  • When using decorative lights, use only those that carry a UL approved tag, and be sure to turn off the lights when you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Local fire marshals also recommend strongly that trees be kept indoors for as brief a period as possible.
  • More information on holiday safety is available at

The American National Christmas Tree Association, which represents growers of holiday trees, says that homeowners should not add products such as fertilizer, bleach or aspirin to water to make trees last longer.

“Research has shown that plain tap water is by far the best” according to their web site. “Some commercial additives and home concoctions can actually be detrimental to a tree’s moisture retention and increase needle loss”.

A Christmas tree can take, on average, six to 10 years to mature to a suitable size. Each year 73 million new trees are planted, according to the tree growers association. But if you’re worried about the impact of all those holiday trees on the environment, take heart: Christmas tree farming does bring some benefits. A renewable resource, the trees boost air quality by generating oxygen and reducing carbon dioxide and particulate pollution. Tree growth also helps to stabilize soil, protect water supplies and provide refuge for wildlife.

Once the holidays are over, homeowners face a new question: What to do with the tree? Local jurisdictions typically schedule pickup for discarded Christmas trees, which are chipped and added to Municipal leaf piles for compost. Most trees, in fact, end up providing a rich source of compost material. Many unsold trees also enter the chipper thus contributing to enriching the soil.

You can do your own post-Christmas composting in a few easy steps >

  • First, prune the limbs off the main trunk.
  • Then strip the smaller woody stems off the main branches, putting the needle-rich stems in your compost pile. The needles will add nitrogen, while the wood stems will add carbon.
  • The trunk and main branches can be placed curbside for pickup.

If you find a cone on your tree, remove it and allow to dry outside over winter. Peel back its “armor” in the spring to reveal the seeds hiding behind each woody scale. Plant the seeds in sunny spots. In 6 to 10 years, with proper soil, sun, moisture, pruning and temperatures, you may have a homegrown Christmas tree or two.

Your old Christmas tree can also be used to create a wildlife habitat >

  • Lay the tree in the back of your garden, slightly out of view.
  • Allow it collect leaf litter and plant debris.
  • Place a hollow log or a dead shrub behind it. Squirrels, rabbits, foxes, toads, turtles and birds depend on this type of protected area for nesting and shelter from predators.
  • As the tree decays, it will provide food for insects and worms that will in turn be eaten by birds.

Evergreen limbs can also be used as protection from wind or freeze damage for plants such as rosemary, loropetalum, or the roots of tender perennials and bulbs such as canna and dahlia. Lay the branches lightly, just one or two thick, as blankets over the desired area. Remove branches as growth resumes in the spring.

Some people are brave enough to bring home a live tree that can be planted in their yard. If this is what you have in mind, go to a garden center or tree seller that has experience with growing them. Live trees can be planted right after Christmas, but now is the time to dig and prepare the hole and put soil for planting the tree in an area where it won’t freeze. The trees adapt well in humus-laden, well-drained soil, with sunlight. Of course, until you plant the tree, cover the pre-dug hole with thick plywood, for safety. Keep the root ball moist and take the live tree out of the house within a week after the holiday to keep it from breaking dormancy.


Christmas Traditions > Christmas Tree

One of the most popular traditions associated with the celebration of Christmas, the Christmas tree is normally an evergreen coniferous tree that is brought in the house or used in the open and is decorated with lights and colourful ornaments during the days preceding and immediately following Christmas.

The tradition is most widely observed in the more northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere (north of about 45 degrees N latitude), where Christmas falls at a time when daylight hours are very short, and temperatures often below freezing (0 degrees C) with snow covering the ground. This is a continuance of the ancient pagan idea that the evergreen tree represents a celebration of the renewal of life at a time of death, darkness and cold at the winter solstice. A common decoration is a “Christmas ball”, a reflecting sphere of thin metal-coated glass, working as a reducing wide-angle mirror.

Like many other Christmas traditions, the universally-popular Christmas tree is derived from a fusion of Christian ideas with older pagan traditions. The custom originated in Germany. According to one legend, Saint Boniface attempted to introduce the idea of trinity to the pagan tribes using the Cone-shaped evergreen trees because of their triangular appearance.

The tradition of hanging decorations (representing fruit or gifts) on the trees is very old, with some early reports coming from Germany’s upper Rhine region, but the tradition of attaching candles is attributed to Martin Luther. A related tradition was hanging evergreen branches throughout the home. With time, these evergreen branches gave way to garlands, vines and wreaths.

Many cultures since then have expanded upon the use of the Christmas tree for celebrations. Residents of Strasbourg in the 16th century decorated fir trees during the Christmas season. The tradition seems to have spread throughout Europe and was most likely brought to the United States by German settlers. In 1923, United States president Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony now held every year on the White House lawn.

UPDATE > The practice of tree worship has been found in many ancient cultures. Often, trees were brought indoors and decorated to ensure a good crop for the coming year. Trees have also been linked to divinity. Egyptians associated a palm tree with the god Baal-Tamar, while the Greeks and Romans believed that the mother of Adonis was changed into a fir tree. Adonis was one of her branches brought to life.

The modern Christmas tree was likely born in the 8th century, when St. Boniface was converting the Germanic tribes. The tribes worshipped oak trees, decorating them for the winter solstice. St. Boniface cut down an enormous oak tree, that was central to the worship of a particular tribe, but a fir tree grew in its place. The evergreen was offered as a symbol of Christianity, which the newly converted Germans began decorating for Christmas.

Prince Albert, who was German, introduced the Christmas tree to England after his marriage to Queen Victoria in 1840. German immigrants to Pennsylvania brought Christmas trees to America.

Enjoying a jolly holly-day

What are your family Christmas traditions? Sixpences in the pudding? Snoozing afer dinner? Every home has its own favourites. But there are some Christmas traditions we all share, and while some go back centuries, there are others which are more recent than you might think.

Take the tradition of bringing greenery into the home during the darkest months of the year. This harks back to pagan times. For ancient people Christmas marked the turning of the year and the hope of spring and evergreen branches symbolised fertility and the renewal of life.

That explains our holly and ivy, the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe goes all the way back to Druid beliefs about eternal life symbolised by the mistletoe, which grew on their sacred oak tree. But the most common greenery we bring into our homes at Christmas is the Christmas tree, as traditions go it is a very new practice indeed.

We owe our Christmas tree to a famous love affair, the passion of Queen Victoria for her German husband, Prince Albert. Together, the two dreamed up a new vision of solid family life which would revolutionise the way their subjects lived and which still affects us today. And one of their first targets for a revamp was Christmas. Christmas before Victoria was a wild affair which dated back to pagan times.

The fun was presided over by the Lord of Misrule, full of lewd and naughty pranks, and usually strictly for the grown-ups. Stern Victoria, a family woman through and through, disapproved of this uncontrolled revelry. So she and Prince Albert cooked up a new-style celebration more in keeping with the strict values and morals they wished their society to follow. Out went the boozy Lord of Misrule, but Victoria did borrow some of the best pagan traditions.

Greenery, for instance, has been brought into our homes since pagan times. Victorians adopted them with a vengeance. As well as swags and wreaths, they embraced the idea of Christmas trees with enthusiasm. This was a tradition brought from Albert’s homeland of Germany, where trees were once worshipped. When Christianity came along the ancient Germans were still anxious not to offend the tree spirits, and so they brought them into their homes for the celebrations.

Victoria loved Christmas trees, especially bedecked with candles, which were first introduced in the 17th-century to symbolise the starlit sky on the night of the nativity. Before that, they were hung with paper roses and apples to honour Mary. Christmas trees had been a Royal favourite for many years, but led by Victoria and Albert the general population adopted them.

The Royals loved them to extremes, the royal children had one, and so did the ladies in waiting. Victoria wrote a card for each member of the Royal Household to hang on yet another. Victoria, her mother and her husband each had one to themselves, hung with candles, toffees and gingerbread.

No baubles, however, they did not come along until 1870 from Bohemia, where they were said to ward off the evil eye. The family even had them on the dinner table, thanks to a new trend for serving the dinner in dishes for guests to help themselves; this left plenty of room for festive decorations on the table itself and remains with us as a tradition today.

Feasting has been a tradition at Christmas time since pagan days, designed to ward off the harsh winter conditions and bring back the good times. Rich people would have perhaps decked their table with a boar’s head until the start of the last century, when it was replaced by a goose. Turkeys came along in Victoria’s time, and as they were imported from America they were at first a luxury only the very wealthy could afford. The plum pudding we know today also became popular in Victoria’s time, replacing an earlier plum porridge which was once served with the meat course.

And as for one tradition, we have taken it further than any generation before us. Christmas gifts were once only available to people with money, poor children might get a hand-made doll or wooden toy if they were lucky.

And as for that jolly bloke with the red suit who climbs down chimneys, he is very recent indeed. Although Santa is based on St Nicholas, Siner Klaas, a bishop brought to America by Dutch people, today’s version was invented by Thomas Nast in a Christmas cartoon in the American magazine Harper’s Weekly in 1863.

How to decorate a Christmas Tree

First, the Lights >

Sparkle and shine comes primarily from the tree lights. Faceted glass bulbs will refract more light and appear brighter.

Small twinkle lights and colored lights also have impact when you layer several strands and pair them with ornaments having reflective surfaces.

To illuminate the tree from the inside out, string lights around the trunk and the branches.

Starting at the base of the trunk and working up, wrap the lights around every major branch, moving from the trunk to the tip and back.

Don’t skimp on lights! For every vertical foot of tree, use a strand of 100 lights.

And don’t be afraid to mix and match lights. There’s no rule stating that you can only use one kind.

A “background” of white or clear lights can be highlighted with strands of colored lights that wrap the outside of the tree.

Experiment with different lighting schemes until you get one you like.

Second, the Garland >

There are no firm rules when draping garlands on a tree (as long as you don’t create a sausage effect, with branches bulging between tightly-cinched garlands).

Start at the top, stringing less garland, and work your way down, increasing the amount of garland.

Thin bead garlands look best swagged from branch to branch; thick paper, ribbon, or foil garlands look best wrapped loosely around the entire tree.

Use a variety of garlands, from plain to fancy, to avoid a busy look. For every vertical foot of tree, use about two strands of garland.

Third, the Ornaments >

To showcase your ornaments, start with the most important ones. Then hang the largest ornaments, spacing them evenly apart. Fill in around them with medium and small sizes, balancing the overall look.

Finish with specialty shapes, such as bird clip-ons. For interesting variety, include all shapes, from icicles to teardrops. And create depth by hanging some ornaments closer to the trunk.

Christmas in Slovakia > The Upside Down Christmas Tree

The Upside Down Christmas Tree > An Eastern European Tradition > 

One of the most unusual traditions of Eastern Europe is the way that a Christmas tree was placed in a home. From Krakow to the Carpathian Highlands, it was displayed point down.

As the great migration to America took place at the turn of the 20th Century, many of of the new American neighbors of these immigrants from the Eastern Europe were traumatized when they visited the homes of their new neighbors from Eastern Europe. They had their Christmas tree going in the wrong direction!

It is thought that the term “Doing something the Polish way” originated from the display of these trees. Legend says that England’s St. Boniface, who travelled to Germany to teach in the 7th Century A.D., was furious when he saw pagans revering an oak tree. He hacked it down, but when he did, a fir tree sprang up on the spot. Legend also says that Boniface used the triangular shape of the Fir Tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The converted people began to revere the Fir tree as God’s Trinity Tree, as they had previously revered the Oak. By the 12th century it was being hung, upside-down, from ceilings at Christmastime in Eastern Europe, as a symbol of Christianity and God the Son becoming man. The first decorated tree recorded was at Riga in Latvia, in the early 1500’s.

Martin Luther is said to have decorated a small Christmas tree with candles to show his children how the stars twinkled through the dark and holy night. The early trees were biblically symbolic of the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden. Food and flowers were used to decorate the tree. The many food items were symbols of plenty. The flowers, originally only red for knowledge and white for innocence completed the tree. It is thought that the colors of red and green for Christmas originated from this tradition. Red flowers on a green tree.

The ancient Polish custom was to hang from the ceiling in a central position with the topmost part of a spruce tree, upside down, and to decorate doorways and wall with separate boughs of the same tree. These were variously called “sad”, “podlaz,”or “podlazniczek.” The most festive ornaments, decorated with ribbons, wafers, and decorations made of straw were hung above the Wigilia dinner table.

Podlazniczka or Sad is a Christmas decoration that pre-dated the imported German Christmas tree in Poland. It is the peak of an evergreen, suspended upside down from the ceiling or rafters point-side-down and decorated with fruit, nuts and sweets in shimmering wrappings, with decorations made of foods, straw, oplatek, and gold-painted spruce cones that made Christmas special.

In the Krakow region, they decorated a hanging upside down top a pine tree with apples, nuts, pears, and ginger breads. Beginning the day after Christmas these delicacies could be eaten by children and carolers.

Maybe we have all been putting our Christmas trees up the wrong way for all our lives.

In November 2005, CNN reported that one of the best selling trees at Target, one of America’s largest retailers, is the upside down Christmas tree.

Related Links >

The origin of the Christmas Tree

Posted On December 2, 2006

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The Christmas Tree, like most Christmas Traditions, has a number of different sources of origin.

In Germany during the dark ages the pagans used to perform sacrifices at the foot of a tree to Thor, the god of thunder. As Europe became more Christianized, many of the pagan customs were co-opted and made Christian. It is highly likely that the ritual pagan tree was combined with the Christian story of the Tree of Life from Genesis, as December 24th was often celebrated as Adam and Eve’s Day.

The city of Riga in Latvia claims to have the first documented use of a decorated evergreen tree in 1510. Legend goes that the tree was decorated with paper ornaments and was set on fire after a ceremony, similar to the Yule Log.

While there are documented cases of Christmas Trees being present in England as early as 1789, it was not until the late 1820s that they become common place. After Dickens’ publication of “A Christmas Carol” in 1843, which featured a Christmas Tree, their popularity exploded.

One of the earliest sightings of a Christmas Tree in America is in Bethlehem Pennsylvania in 1747 when a “wooden pyramid of green brush wood” was decorated with candles.

Sources for the History of the Christmas Tree >

How to pick your tree

Posted On November 28, 2006

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  • Inspect the tree you’ve chosen. Does it appear green and healthy with a fragrant smell and moist, flexible needles?
  • Avoid any trees with broken branches or damaged bark.
  • Bounce the tree lightly on its cut end or shake it. If needles rain down, keep looking.
  • Bring a tape measure with you and note any height or width limits of the room where the tree will be placed.
  • Check the bottom of the tree. Is there enough space between the end and the lowest branches to make a slightly diagonal fresh cut?
  • Make sure the handle, or base of the tree, is straight and 6-8 inches long so it will fit easily into the stand. 
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