Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Trees from Forest to Fireside

We all know that Christmas trees can be a drain on the budget, and that is nothing new. In the first settlements of territorial Montana, Christmas trees might come fresh cut from the forest but required an outlay of cash to decorate. Ribbons and ornaments—even those made by hand of scraps—were expensive and hard to come by. Churches, meeting halls, and courthouses were the usual venues for Christmas trees because they could be communally decorated. Gifts, including fruit and candy, were hung on the trees and not usually placed beneath as we do today. Distribution of gifts on the tree was done with great ceremony.

By 1880, Christmas trees were more common in private homes and sold in larger cities for ten to fifty cents. In the next decade, one in every five families had a Christmas tree. By the early 1900s, Christmas trees cost from twenty-five cents to a dollar and most families had their own Christmas trees.  While decorations could still cost more than the tree itself, saving decorations from year to year helped Christmas trees become almost a seasonal necessity. An editorial feature in the Daily Missoulian, December 18, 1910, advised that Christmas trees were for everyone. Even those too old to hang a stocking and those with no young people in there households should not give up on the custom.

Maurice Hain poses with the family's Christmas tree in 1936.
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 945-214
While some argued that cutting trees desecrate the forest, Gifford Pinchot, conservationist and first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, answered these critics. He maintained that cutting a five-foot tree is not the same as logging an old-growth lodge pole pine. A five-foot farmed tree grows in half a decade and can be replaced. Pinchot further remarked, “Trees were destined to be used. What better use could be made of them [than] to give pleasure to millions of people at Christmastime?”

Whether you cut your own or buy your tree, keep the custom and fill your home with Christmas.

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