There's a lot to know about buying Christmas trees. You need to know what type of tree you want, whether you want a real tree or a fake one, and what size will fit comfortably in your house or apartment. You can order a online, head to a tree lot and pick one out, or cut down your own (if you live near the woods or a farm).
Did you know that the Christmas tree's origins began as a symbol of the winter solstice? The fascination began with their year-long healthy appearance: it was believed they had magical properties that would protect people against a dying sun since the days shorten during the solstice. As for more modern traditions, the tree was brought into the White House for the first time by President Pierce (Anybody good at History? Can you tell me who that is?). Calvin Coolidge, adding to the tradition, began the tree lighting ceremony in 1923. During his term, Teddy Roosevelt banned the tree inside the White House because he did not consider it environmentally friendly.
* It can take approximately seven years for a Christmas tree to mature--think about that. That's one reason to appreciate its beauty when you decorate it.
* About 30 million Christmas trees are sold in the US each year.
* The tree lighting in Rockefeller Center began in 1933.
* Trees and boughs were often used to ward off evil.
* The Christmas tree tradition is credited to Germany, where it supposedly began in the sixteenth century. It didn't reach America until the nineteenth century.
* When it did reach the US, the Puritans labeled it as a pagan ritual.
The first thing you need to do is figure out how much space you have for a tree. Some small apartments may only be able to accommodate a small table-top tree, while other homes might want a twelve-footer for a living room with high ceilings.
A few things to do:
* Measure the height of your ceiling. And then measure it again.
** Don't forget to measure your stand, while you're at it. Don't forget that the tree stand adds to the height of the tree, and nothing looks sillier than a Christmas tree with a bowed head (no Charlie Brown trees either, please).
** Make sure there is enough room for your favorite tree topper.
* Can you safely decorate a very tall tree? If you or others in your family have any physical handicaps that might make this task difficult, stick with a smaller one.
* Once you've picked out your tree, figure out how will you get it home.
Natural vs. Artificial
The debate continues about whether a real or artificial tree is better. The short answer is that both have their advantages, but a real one is actually the more sustainable, environmentally friendly option.
If you decide that only a real tree will do, you still have a few things to do before you bring one home. Many different kinds are available, and the type that suits you will depend on your house or apartment, the area in which you live, the members of your household, and what is available within a reasonable distance of your residence.
There are about a dozen species of tree that are regularly used in the United States. Here they are, in order of popularity (according to About.com).
* '''Fraser Fir'''
** Excellent needle retention, nicely scented.
** Related to balsam fir.
* '''Douglas Fir'''
** Another very popular, sweet-smelling tree.
** Naturally cone-shaped.
** Found throughout the country.
* '''Balsam Fir'''
** Grows naturally in a pyramid.
** Very similar to the Fraser fir; might be the same species.
** Dark color. Very fragrant.
* '''Colorado Blue Spruce'''
** Ranges from dark green to a powdery blue-green; popular as an ornamental landscape tree.
** Excellent needle retention.
** Often sold with the root ball attached, so it can be planted after the holidays.
** The White House Christmas tree is a Colorado blue spruce.
* '''Scotch Pine'''
** Imported from Europe.
** Long-lasting aroma; needles will stay on for about four weeks. Don't drop off when dry.
** Strong branches; good for heavy ornaments.
* '''Eastern Red Cedar'''
** Very popular in the South.
** Aromatic and prickly.
* '''White Spruce'''
** Grows into lovely shapes in the wild. Popular in the Northeast.
** Needles have an unpleasant odor when crushed.
** Strong; good for heavy ornaments.
* '''Eastern White Pine'''
** Not the best choice; requires a lot of pruning to look like a nice Christmas tree.
** Retains needles throughout the season; not especially fragrant.
** Not good for heavy ornaments.
* '''White Fir''' and '''Concolor Fir'''
** Closely related species with a nice shape.
** Fragrant throughout the season.
* '''Virginia Pine'''
** Southern alternative to Scotch pine; good in warm climates.
** Doesn't grow naturally in a cone; needs to be trained.
* '''Noble Fir'''
** Beautiful, long lasting, and good for heavy ornaments.
* '''Leyland Cyprus'''
** Dark green, feathery foliage.
** Not closely related to other trees listed here; actually a hybrid that doesn't grow in the wild.
** May be better for people with allergies to sap.
Live Christmas Trees
Here is an eco-friendly solution to the yearly mass chopping of Christmas trees: Buy a tree with roots! This way, after the holiday, you can plant the tree in your yard and have a reminder of the Christmas spirit for years to come. These trees are balled and burlapped and ready for planting after their stay in your family's living room. Here are some reasons why you should buy a live tree this holiday.
* Trees convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
* The EPA claims planting trees will reverse the global warming effect.
* Your Christmas tree will provide a habitat for birds and other wildlife.
* Your tree will not end up in a landfill or incinerated with all the other discarded trees.
* Burning discarded trees create carbon dioxide and contribute to global warming.
Choosing and Caring For a Tree
Buying from a Lot
If you buy your tree at a lot, the most important thing to look for is freshness. A tree should look like it was recently cut. Needles and twigs should be pliable and no snap when you bend them. If you stroke the tree or shake it gently, you should not be showered in needles. (A few old needles from last year can fall off.) The tree should have a good color and fragrance as appropriate to the species.
Buying from a Farm
Buying a tree at a "cut your own" farm is the best way to ensure that your tree is fresh--after all, it is still connected to its root system until you choose it. Keep in mind when looking at trees that they will appear short when compared with the infinite height of the sky. Bring a tape measure with you.
When you get your tree home, cut off one inch from the bottom of the tree before putting it in water. (You can skip that step if it's been less than four hours since the tree was cut.) You don't need to add anything to the water, but make sure to supply plenty of it: trees can drink up to a gallon of water a day, and if they are not kept in water they will dry out quickly. Keep the tree away from bright lights, fire places, and drafts.
Caring for a Living Tree
If you purchase a living tree with its roots still in a root ball, you will have to take very good care of it as living trees need plenty of water. You also have to plan ahead--a living tree should never be kept indoors for more than 7-10 days.
* Introduce your tree to your home slowly by leaving it in the garage for a couple days, then moving it into your living room. The quick transition to warmth will shock it into growing, which is bad.
* Check for any critters in the branches before you bring the tree into your house.
* The heat of your home will dehydrate live plants, so place it away from any heating vents or radiators and close to a cool window.
* Place the burlap ball in a large tub so that you can easily water it without anything seeping onto your floor.
* Mulch around the top of the burlap is a good idea to keep the soil moist.
* You will have to gradually acclimatize it to winter weather before planting it outdoors: transitio from house to garage to shed to yard. You will not be able to plant them if the soil is frozen, so plan accordingly for your area. Do not unwrap the roots until you are ready to plant.
Visit the Tree Planting Guide for more information on how to care for young trees.
There are many different kinds of artificial trees on the market. Here are a few of the major types.
There are a few important features to keep in mind when shopping for an artificial tree. Generally speaking, you should buy the best one you can afford, since you will probably use it for several years. A good tree might last as long as 15 years, if you care for it well.
The branches can be attached in one of two ways.
* The first option is a tree with "hook-in" branches that have to be attached to the tree every year.
* The second option is a hinged tree. All the branches are attached and open and close just like an umbrella.
** This configuration also has the advantage that once you have attached the lights to the tree, they can stay there for years.
Naturally, artificial trees are mostly plastic. However, there are many different kinds of plastic on the market. The least expensive options are the old-fashioned kind with wire branches covered in stiff plastic needles. These tree often have exposed wire at the tips of the branches and do not look all that realistic.
Injection-molded polyethylene is probably the sturdiest of the options on the market. It is the newest technology and has been consistently improved in the last few years. These trees are sturdier and last longer, particularly high-quality molded plastics. In addition, these trees are often modeled on real trees to avoid the "too perfect" look common to less expensive trees. You can also get artificial trees that resemble a wide range of species.
For people who want to have at least part of their tree made of wood, there are some artificial trees that have wooden trunks but plastic branches. There are also all-metal trees if realism is not your goal. Metal trees are especially practical in an office.
Tip count is not a good measure of the tree's quality. Any manufacturer can just add branches and twigs to a tree to increase the tip count, but it is a meaningless statistic. You are better off judging the quality of the branches and the needles based on the type of plastic.
You have a few options when it comes to lights on your tree. If you have your own lights that you prefer to use, there are plenty of unlit trees available. If you want a lit tree, you have several options. The majority are made with traditional strings of Christmas lights. These can be white or multicolored; some trees have both and can use one or both depending on your mood. A growing number of trees have LED lights, which are more expensive but safer, since they don't get very hot. Some trees use fiber optic cables to transmit light from the base. Often, a rotating colored plastic disc causes the color of the tree to change over the course of a few minutes.
As depicted above, you can get an upside-down tree to accommodate large packages or people. There are a number of other shapes and sizes available. Slim trees in particular are a great option as a secondary tree in a hallway or office, or as a main tree in a small apartment. There are also half-trees that are meant to be placed against the wall.
There are a few things you might want to go with your tree. Specialized storage containers are a good idea to protect the branches during the year. Some companies may include the a bag for storage, especially if you buy it early or off-season. You can also buy a rotating stand to display your tree. And think about buying matching artificial wreaths and garlands to decorate the rest of your home.