Santa's Whiskers

1997 Union Station, D.C. 

Norway annually gifts a Christmas tree to Washington, D.C. as a symbol of friendship between Norway and the US and as an expression of gratitude from Norway for the help received from the US during World War II. As it has done for the past 16 years, the Embassy of Norway decorated a Christmas tree at Union Station in Washington, D.C. — a gift to the American people to say thanks for helping Norway during World War II.
Berlin Christmas tree in Pariser Platz 2011.
1990 Berlin

The town of Drabak, situated along the Oslofjord in Norway has given Berlin a Christmas tree every year as a sign of peace and solidarity since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990. Year after year, Pariser Platz in Berlin is illuminated at the start of Advent by a symbol of the Norwegian-German friendship, and peace and solidarity with the reunified Germany.
The 2013 lighting of the annual Christmas tree in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
1952 Newcastle Upon Tyne

Each year the Lord Mayor receives, on behalf of the city, a gift of a Christmas Tree from the city of Bergen in Norway. Traditionally the tree is erected in the grounds of the Civic Centre and the Mayor of Bergen comes to Newcastle to officially hand over the tree and perform the lighting ceremony.​

​Bergen is one of Newcastle’s twin cities. Each year the tree is decorated in traditional Norwegian white lights and is a symbol of peace and goodwill.
Lighting up the first Norwegian Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, 1947. http://www
1947 Trafalgar Square

Every year since 1947, the people of Oslo, Norway have given a Christmas tree to the city of Westminster, England. The gift is an expression of good will and gratitude for Britain's help to Norway during World War II.  At the base of the tree stands a plaque, bearing the words: "This tree is given by the city of Oslo as a token of Norwegian gratitude to the people of London for their assistance during the years 1940-45."

When Norway was invaded by German forces in 1940, King Haakon VII escaped to Britain and set up a government-in-exile in London, enabling the nation to retain its sovereignty and providing a base for the Norwegian resistance movement.
1933 Rockefeller Center

Although the official Christmas tree tradition at Rockefeller Center began in 1933 (the year the 30 Rockefeller Plaza opened), the unofficial tradition began during the Depression-era construction of Rockefeller Center, when workers decorated a smaller 20 feet balsam fir tree with "strings of cranberries, garlands of paper, and even a few tin cans" on Christmas Eve (December 24, 1931), as recounted by Daniel Okrent in his history of Rockefeller Center. Some accounts have the tree decorated with the tin foil ends of blasting caps. There was no Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in 1932.
President Coolidge illuminating the community Christmas tree which had been erected on the Monument Grounds, south of the White House.
1923 National Community Christmas Tree​

President Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923.  Despite the fact that the National (Community) Christmas Tree dates only to 1923, earlier Christmas celebrations (namely the community Christmas trees at the Capitol and the Christmas caroling at the Treasury) should be considered “forerunners” to the National (Community) Christmas Tree. There was overlap among the 1913, 1914, 1916, 1917 and 1918 events in terms of both sponsors and individual organizers as well as institutions involved. But it is not until 1923 that a U.S. President is directly associated with the event and responsible for lighting the tree in an official ceremony.
1918 Boston

​In 1918, the Province of Nova Scotia presented the Boston Christmas tree to the people of Boston, in gratitude for the relief supplies received from the citizens of Boston after a ship exploded in 1917 following a collision in the Halifax, Nova Scotia Harbor. Part of the city was leveled, killing and injuring thousands.

On December 6, 1917 at 9:00 AM, the Halifax Explosion severely destroyed much of the city of Halifax. Boston authorities learned of the disaster via telegraph, and quickly organized and dispatched a relief train around 10:00 PM that night, to assist survivors. A blizzard following the explosion delayed the train, which finally arrived in the early morning on December 8, and immediately began distributing food, water, and medical supplies. Numerous personnel on the train were able to relieve the Nova Scotia medical staff, most of whom had worked without rest since the explosion occurred.

​In 1918, Halifax sent a Christmas tree to the City of Boston in thanks and remembrance for the help that the Boston Red Cross and the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee had provided immediately after the disaster. That gift was revived in 1971 by the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers Association, who began an annual donation of a large tree to promote Christmas tree exports as well as to acknowledge Boston's support after the explosion. The gift was later taken over by the Nova Scotia Government to continue the goodwill gesture as well as to promote trade and tourism.
Photo of Chicago's first municipal Christmas tree in Grant Park, 1913. chicago/2013/11/chicago-christmas-tree-lighting-2013-100-year-celebration/
1913 Chicago 

The tradition of an official Chicago Christmas tree was initiated in 1913 when P.J. Jordan, donated one in honor of his former partner of Captain Herman E. Schuenemann – aka Captain Santa, who went down with the the Christmas Tree ship in 1912 while in route from Michigan to Chicago with a load of Christmas trees.

For almost 30 years Captain Santa had piloted his schooner full of Christmas trees from Michigan to Chicago late in the year to sell to the city’s residents. In November of 1912 the ship encountered a tremendous Lake Michigan winter storm and sank. All were lost. Captain Santa was well known by the residents of the city and that first tree was lit by Mayor Carter H. Harrison in Grant Park.
The 2012 lighting of the Perkasie Christmas tree in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
1909 Perkasie ​Since 1909, Perkasie residents have gathered in the town square to celebrate the holiday season with an outdoor tree lighting ceremony that they claim is the oldest continuous outdoor tree lighting in the United States.

The belief that Perkasie began the tradition of a community Christmas tree stems from a book published in 1954 to celebrate the borough’s 75th anniversary. Under the headline “Perkasie Firsts” the book says:

“From reliable information, one finds that the idea of a Community Christmas Tree, which is a feature of many towns and cities all over the United States, appears to have originated in Perkasie. The idea was formed in the minds of members of the Order of Owls and put into effect in Perkasie and Sellersville in 1909. In 1914, this feature was taken over by the Chamber of Commerce and is to this date a fixed event improved upon each year.”

Samuel R. Kramer, an early owner of the Perkasie Central News, explained that he got the idea after visiting a neighbor to see their tree, which started him wondering why the beautifully decorated trees were hidden inside their homes.

​The tradition started the following year in 1909, and was improved with the erection of a larger tree in 1910, in front of the J.G. Moyer Building.
The Cleveland family tree (1894) decorated with red, white and blue electric light bulbs. It was placed in the second floor Oval Room of the White House just three years ater the installation of electricity.
1889 White House ​The White House observance of Christmas before the twentieth century was not an official event. First families decorated the house modestly with greens and privately celebrated the Yuletide with family and friends. 

The first White House Christmas tree, decorated with candles and toys, was placed in the second floor oval room, then used as a library and family parlor, in 1889 for President Benjamin Harrison and his family.

In 1894, three years after electricity was introduced in the White House, the first electric lights on a family tree delighted the young daughters of President Grover Cleveland.

In 1909, President William H. Taft's children helped decorate the first tree on the state floor in the Blue Room.

​First Lady Lou Henry Hoover established the custom of decorating an official tree in the White House in 1929
. Since that time, the honor of trimming the Christmas tree on the state floor has belonged to our first ladies. The tree stands in the oval Blue Room, an elegant space honored as the center of holiday splendor.
Christmas tree ornamentation surrounding the Dewey Monument in the center of Union Square, circa 1920.

Notable Trees

Trees are symbolic of our relationship with nature, a touchstone to the past and future, a symbol of strength, endurance, growth, renewal and longevity. So it should not be surprising that some notable events related to Christmas have become symbolized in an annual community tree.

1880 Union Square, San Francisco Every year since 1880 a magnificent tree has stood in Union Square, the tradition supposedly started by decree of the City's great eccentric, Emperor Norton. The origins of the Square's name relate to the pro-Union rallies held there on the eve of the Civil War. The Saint Francis Hotel, which opened in 1904, stands behind the Square.​ The area was originally a tall sand dune. The square was later set aside to be made into a public park in 1850. The monument was designed by sculpture Robert Aitken and architects Newton Tharp and Timothy Pflueger, and was dedicated by President Roosevelt on May 23, 1901.,_San_Francisco​​ In 1989 Macy’s started donating the annual Christmas tree for Union Square.
And not without good reason. Evergreens are among the longest living trees in the world. ​Methuselah is a 4,845-year-old pine tree growing high in the White Mountains of Invo County in eastern California. For many years it was the world's oldest known clonal organism, until superseded by the discovery in 2013 of another bristlecone pine in the same area with an age of 5,064 years (germination in 3,051 B.C. The tree is named after Methuselah, a biblical figure whose reported lifespan of 969 years surpassed all others in the Bible.

Old Tjikko is an ancient, 16-foot tall Norway spruce living in the scrubby Fulufjallet Mountains in Sweden. At 9,550 years, Old Tjikko is the oldest single-stemmed clonal tree, and took root not long after the glaciers receded from Scandinavia after the last ice age. To figure out the hardy spruce's age, scientists carbon-dated its roots. For thousands of years, the forbidding tundra-climate kept it in shrub form. But as weather warmed over the last century, the shrub has grown into a full-fledged tree.

The Tree

The central player in home decorations has long been the Christmas tree. It's roots (pardon the pun) go back to ancient cultures that often thought it reminded them that spring would come again soon. 

​The ancient Egyptians, for example, during the Winter Solstice would fill their homes with green palm rushes to symbolize the triumph of life over death. Early Romans marked the Solstice with a Saturnalia feast to honor the god of agriculture. During this feast they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs. In Northern Europe the Druids, priests of the ancient Celts, decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. And the Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god Balder.