2008-12-25 / Features

Seven Things You May Not Have Known About Christmas

Christmas Trees Made Easy

Christmas trees strung with colored lights and covered in ornaments and other trinkets are staples of the holiday season. Finding the perfect tree and decorating it is as much a Christmas tradition as egg nog and bad gifts from distant aunts and uncles.

There is much debate over what tree is better - artificial or real - but the fact of the matter remains that an artificial tree will not provide the aroma or experience a real tree can offer.

Before you go out shopping at your tree farm or just up the corner at the Christmas tree lot, first measure the openings of your home and the space where you will set up your tree. A tree out in the open, or beneath the 12-foot ceilings of a warehouse store will look small. But when that same tree is brought into your home, it can be immense. A measuring tape can help remove any doubt about the tree's dimensions.

When selecting a tree, you want one that has been recently cut or is the freshest. If you're cutting the tree down yourself at a farm, it's easy to determine the tree's vitality. However, it may not be so apparent at a tree lot where trees may have been sitting around since right after Thanksgiving. Consider these pointers when choosing a tree:

• Fir trees tend to hold to their needles even when they start to dry out, making them ideal Christmas trees.

• Examine the tree you like carefully. A good one will look healthy, be vibrant green and have a strong pine aroma.

• If the tree has dry, brittle twigs, a musty smell or any sign of dryness or browning, you probably want to choose another as this one is past its prime.

• Look for a tree with strong branches to hold ornaments.

• The needles should be soft and flexible. They should not fall off easily if you run your hand over boughs of the tree.

Remember, a healthy tree can last several weeks if it is brought indoors freshly cut and maintained with regular watering.

Be sure to shake the tree out before you transport it home. This will loosen any dead branches and needles, which will make a mess of your car and home. Most tree lots and farms will wrap the tree in netting so that it stays condensed and portable for the trip home. Tie it securely so you don't end up with an airborne tree on the roads home, which has happened to many people. Also, be sure to cut off an inch to two inches of the trunk off to promote good water absorption later on.

When the tree is home, carefully bring it indoors (those door measurements will come in handy now). Make sure that your tree stand will fit the circumference of the tree's trunk. Do not shave the sides of the trunk to get it to fit or you risk compromising how long the tree will last.

A cut tree first can absorb as much as 1 gallon of water 24 hours after it is cut. After that the general rule is that a tree needs approximately one quart of water per inch of trunk diameter. Adding special mixes to the water will not help it last any longer.

By following these tips you can ensure you have a beautiful and healthy tree to enjoy for the duration of the season.

The Christmas season is full of traditions, folklore and rich history. However, amid all of the traditions we've come to know, there are many bits of trivia of which you may not be familiar. Here are a few little-known facts about Christmas.

1. The first manufactured Christmas tree ornaments were sold in 1880 by the former Woolworth department store.

2. Christmas trees originally featured actual lighted candles, which were naturally a fire hazard. So containers filled with water had to be kept near the tree.

3. Construction workers first erected an undecorated tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City in the early 1930s. They have been credited with starting the annual tradition.

4. Although sometimes construed as sacriligious, the shortened form "Xmas" is actually de- rived from Christ's name and has been popular in Europe since the 1500s. It is believed to be derived from the Greek word "Xristos," which means Christ.

5. The National Confectioners Association reports that for 200 years candy canes were solid white. In the 1950s an automated machine was invented that could put on the red stripes.

6. The idea of Christmas greeting cards started in Britain in the 1830s.

7. Christmas celebrations were banned in Boston between 1659 and 1681. Those caught celebrating would be fined.

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