Beyond Donner and Blitzen; decking the woods; a partridge in an...apple tree?
Evergreen decorations far outdate Christmas. To celebrate the solstice and renewal, the Romans, Druids, and Vikings decked their abodes with evergreen boughs. Germans started using whole trees in the 16th century, but the custom was late to arrive in the New World. Pilgrim governor William Bradford called it a "pagan mockery." And as recently as 1851, Pastor Henry Schwan of Cleveland was excoriated and even threatened by his parishioners for decorating what is believed to be the first Christmas tree seen inside an American church. It is a sad irony that the Fraser fir, grown commercially across much of the eastern part of North America as one of our most popular Christmas trees, has a tiny native range. Not only is its natural habitat restricted to the cold, moist highlands of Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia, it is being devastated by an alien pest--the balsam woolly adelgid.