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Surprising Facts About Christmas Trees

Posted on December 03, 2015

One of the strongest reminders that we have entered the (ever-lengthening) holiday season is that first scent of evergreen. But while the smell of fir, pine, or spruce may be one of the most familiar parts of Christmastime, there are plenty of things about the beloved conifers that may not be so well-known. From surprising early holiday practices to current research being conducted to build a better tree, here are some lesser-known facts of these features of the holidays.

IN SOME HOMES, TREES WERE HUNG.

In southwest Germany during the 17th and 18th centuries, it was popular, particularly among the lower classes, to hang smaller trees from the ceiling or rafters. This allowed for a flashy display, but kept the goodies in the tree out of the reach of children. Some families even hung the tree upside-down, since “pointing the root toward heaven was supposed to imbue the tree with divine powers,” according to Bernd Brunner in his book Inventing the Christmas Tree. In other German households, “Christmas pyramids” built of wood and covered with evergreen branches and candles would serve as the centerpiece of celebrations.

A GERMAN PRINCE IS CREDITED WITH POPULARIZING THEM IN AMERICA.

England’s Prince Albert is credited with helping bring the Christmas tree from his native Germany to the English-speaking world, making it a well-publicized tradition in the royal household of his wife, Queen Victoria. Godey’s Lady’s Book editor Sarah Josepha Hale—one of the main advocates for a national Thanksgiving holiday—played an important role in promoting Christmas trees in the U.S. when her magazine published an illustration of the British royal family with their tree in 1850. She edited out Victoria’s crown jewels, Albert’s mustache and sash, and any reference to who the family were, transforming the picture from a piece of royal marketing to a paragon of middle-class, American, Christmas celebration. Albert would remain associated with the Christmas tree for years. Following his death on December 14, 1861, English families living in New York City reportedly draped their trees in black in honor of his memory.

Read the other 9 facts at Mental Floss.

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