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Oh Christmas tree! 5 amazing facts about our favorite seasonal decoration

Breakout

For most of us, it is impossible to imagine celebrating Christmas without the warm sparkle and magical glow of a Christmas tree. In fact, this 600-year old tradition is so ingrained in modern culture, that polls show 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas even though only half see it as a strongly religious holiday.

Of course at the center of this annual event stands the tree, and whether you go with a real one, an artificial one, or something entirely different (think festivus pole!), we’ve unwrapped five amazing facts about Christmas trees that you probably never knew or even thought about.

1) It all began in 16th century Germany
It is widely accepted that the indoor use of evergreen trees, as a symbol of hope and life during this winter holiday, began in Germany in the 16th century. Since then, thanks to the support of several prominent royal families in Europe, the custom has grown and spread.

Here in the U.S., the annual lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City is arguably the most watched celebration of this sort. With roots that now date back 80 years, the midtown display has gone from a 40-foot tree with 700 lights to a seventy-foot behemoth that sports 45,000 twinkling, energy-efficient LEDs.

The White House also lights a tree annually too, but that tradition only dates back to 1966, when the National Christmas Tree Association began presenting the first lady with a tree to put on display in the blue room.

2)  It’s fake trees by a mile
According to the American Christmas Tree Association, 80% of American homes will have a fake tree this year, up from 79% in 2011. There are many reason why that number is rising, but it seems that the real tree loyalists aren’t dwindling too much in their numbers, and will purchase somewhere about 22 to 25 million fresh trees.

Those that do go the artificial route are expected to use their tree for a decade, and often take comfort in the fact that they save money, are clean and easy to set up, require no watering and are inflammable.

Proponents of the pine tree will argue that natural is better, that the scent is inimitable, and the tradition of selecting just the right tree makes for a timeless annual outing.

3)  Christmas trees are just another crop
According to USDA and other industry data, the farmers that grow Christmas trees are not all that different from other family farms that raise livestock or grow other crops, and it is often not their primary source of income.  

Of the 24.5 million live trees sold last year, the NCTA reports that 85% were pre-cut and that only 15% were cut down by the consumer themselves. In addition, more than 100,000 people are employed on over 15,000 different plantations, where as many as three trees get planted for each one that gets harvested. It takes about seven years to grow a tree, on average, and the most common height is six feet.

The NCTA says that “Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington,” are the leading producers, and that chain stores (like Walmart or Home Depot) sell as many trees now as the farmers do.

4) Home heating equipment is much more dangerous
From the early days of actual candle-lit trees, to highly distributed images of trees bursting into flames, the risk of bringing a flammable shrub into your home, and covering it with electric lights has been well established. 

According to the National Fire Protection Association,  “Between 2007-2011, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 230 home fires, per year, that started with Christmas trees.”  

While the risk involved in Christmas trees is clear - and potentially deadly -  separate NFPA statistics show that the risk from home heating equipment is far greater, where more than 53,000 incidents occur each year.

5)  It’s a big business no matter which kind you buy
The tree growers estimate annual sales of about $1billion for real trees, versus about $800 million spent annually on artificial trees. The average price of a real tree (~$40) has remained remarkably stable for the past decade. While the average fake tree might cost more upfront, years of re-use will more than offset the additional cost