White House Christmas Tree Arrives, No One Really Sure When First Presidential Tree Appeared

First lady Michelle Obama received the 2015 Christmas tree at the White House on Friday, according to USA Today. The Fraser fir is said to be 18-1/2 feet in length and to have been grown in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and harvested by Glenn and Jay Bustard.

The Christmas tree farmers won a nation-wide contest and presented their winning tree to Michelle Obama personally at the front entrance to the White House.

The tree will be displayed in the Blue Room of the presidential residence. The National Christmas Tree Association has been charged with supplying trees for the White House since 1966. A national Christmas tree will also be lit by President Obama at the Ellipse, adjacent to the White House, on Friday December 4, according to the National Parks Service.

Perhaps surprisingly, no one is quite sure when the first Christmas tree was brought inside at the White House. The earliest possible references date back to the 1840s, and were made in the 1880s with regard to President John Tyler, according to The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 46.

According to the Seattle Times, other accounts place the first Christmas tree in the White House in the 1850s or 1860s. Almost certainly, by the end of 1880s, with President Benjamin Harrison, Christmas trees had become a regular feature for the president and his family.

The use of trees in celebration predates Christianity, according to Why Christmas. Romans used evergreen fir trees in their Saturnalia festival. When Rome converted to Christianity the evergreen fir became symbolically intertwined with the religion.

Though no one is certain when the first Christmas trees were brought indoors, some guess that it might have been about 1,000 AD in northern Europe.

Some claim that the first actual Christmas tree was in Riga, Latvia at a site where a plaque bearing the inscription “The First New Year’s Tree in Riga in 1510” is located. Those celebrating were said to burn the tree after its ceremonial use.

By the 1600s, Germans were said to have regularly brought evergreen firs indoors at Christmastime, according to History. Marin Luther is thought to be the first person to decorate a Christmas tree with candles. Early German Christmas trees are reported to have been decorated with edible treats, such as apples, gingerbread, and “wafers.”

There are many other legends concerning to the origins of Christmas trees. The custom appeared to first be popular with German and Latvian people; the countries aren’t located very far apart.

One legend describes St. Boniface of Crediton finding a group of pagans about to sacrifice a boy tied to a tree and cutting the tree down in anger, only to watch an evergreen tree grow immediately in its place. He and his followers interpreted this as confirmation of the Christian faith and decorated the tree with candles so that St. Boniface could “preach to the pagans at night.”

The first Christmas trees were said to be brought inside homes in the United Kingdom in the 1840s when Queen Victoria’s German husband Prince Albert placed a tree in Windsor Castle. A drawing, “The Queen’s Christmas tree at Windsor Castle” depicting the tree appeared in Illustrated London News. Many people saw the drawing, both in the United States and in Britain, and the modern Christmas tree was born.

Electric Christmas lights were first invented in 1895. Despite this, many fires were caused by people using candles in Christmas trees for years following. When they eventually became the standard, lights were seen as a life-saving invention.

Christmas trees and Santa Claus.

Artificial trees have been available since the early 1900s and are a practical alternative for those who, for whatever reason, aren’t able to put a real tree up in their house. For those in urban areas, or those who live in apartments, a live Christmas tree may not be an option. Commercially grown trees are reportedly available in all 50 states.

[AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais]