“A Symbol of Good Will and Love”

Illustration from "The Idyl of the Christmas Pine," written by Geneva, Ohio, poet Edith M. Thomas in December 1874. Courtesy of the Ashtabula County District Library via Ohio Memory.
Illustration from “The Idyl of the Christmas Pine,” written by Geneva, Ohio, poet Edith M. Thomas in December 1874. Courtesy of the Ashtabula County District Library via Ohio Memory.
"Norway Spruce," a plate from "The Specimen Book of Fruits, Flowers, and Ornamental Trees" via Ohio Memory.
Norway Spruce illustrated plate via Ohio Memory.

For hundreds of years, evergreen plants have been a symbol of hope during winter’s cold, gray months. Many pre-Christianity cultures hung evergreen boughs in their homes and over their doors, the bright spots of color keeping away evil spirits and illness and reminding inhabitants of the life that continued despite the dreariness and cold outside their doors.

Decorated Christmas trees originated in Germany, with Martin Luther being credited as the first person to add lights to an indoor Christmas tree after having seen starlight twinkling through evergreen boughs as he walked home one winter evening. Later, 19th century German settlers brought the tradition to America, where it continues as a beloved and important tradition for those who celebrate Christmas, standing as a centerpiece of the holidays in homes everywhere. Ohio’s trees, however, have played a role on the national stage, as well, making Ohio a part of our nation’s holiday tradition.

Selection of the 1967 White House Christmas tree in Portage County, via Ohio Memory.
Selection of the 1967 White House Christmas tree in Portage County, via Ohio Memory.

Since the late 1800s, a Christmas tree is installed every year in the Blue Room of the White House, with themed decorations being chosen by the First Lady. Twice, Ohio has provided the tree for this annual event. In 1967, the Ohio Tree Growers’ Association had the honor of presenting First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson with a blue spruce for the White House Christmas tree. The First Lady chose an Early American theme for the tree and added silver baubles, silver stars and mirrors. Twenty-nine years later, Ohio again provided a blue spruce for the White House Christmas tree. This time, First Lady Hillary Clinton selected a Nutcracker Suite theme, echoing the theme chosen by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961.

In addition to those trees used to decorate the White House, trees from Ohio have also twice been used to celebrate the holiday at the United State Capitol, once in 1963 and a second time in 1987. Unlike the trees installed at the White House, these trees are enormous in size; the 1987 tree, which was harvested from Wayne National Forest, was sixty feet tall! Yet these are not the tallest of the Ohio trees that have been prominently featured at Christmas. Placing a tree at Rockefeller Center in New York has been a tradition since 1931, and while most of the trees used for this event have been from Connecticut and New York, a 75-foot Norway Spruce from Richfield, Ohio, was lit at the Center on December 2, 1998, ushering in the Christmas season and making Ohio an important part of our nation’s holiday celebration.

Kinley family Christmas tree, ca. 1910, via Ohio Memory.
Kinley family Christmas tree, ca. 1910, via Ohio Memory.

Maybe your decorations include strings of popcorn and shiny tinsel, or maybe you just use whatever is available where you are. You might purchase your tree from a lot, or in a box from the store, or you might visit a tree farm to cut down the perfect specimen.   Whatever you do, if you decorate a tree you are carrying on a long-held tradition that has celebrated life, light and joy across cultures for generations.


Thank you to Shannon Kupfer, Digital/Tangible Media Cataloger at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!

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