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Christmas trees once known as humble conifers

Dec 01, 2016 01:22AM
The evergreen conifer such as the spruce, pine or fir tree has been associated with the celebration of Christmas. These trees, as the name implies, keep their green, needle-like leaves throughout the year. This is in contrast to deciduous trees like aspen trees that lose their foliage during the winter months. Evergreens do lose their leaves as the leaves age and are replaced, but they do not lose their leaves seasonally all at once. The result is a tree that is green all year. Another interesting feature of the evergreen conifer is their branches with needle-like leaves slope downward to shed the weight of winter snow.

The name evergreen is obvious, but what about the name conifer? Where does the conifer come from? We have all seen pine cones on pine trees, and that is how they reproduce to grow new trees. The name conifer comes from the Latin word conis for cone and ferre meaning to bear. A conifer tree is one that bears cones. Evergreen conifer trees grow in all 50 states including Hawaii. The next question is, how did the evergreen conifer become known as the Christmas tree? According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “the use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garland to symbolize eternal life was a custom of ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian custom of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for birds during Christmas time. The Christmas tree tradition as we know it today evolved from 16th century Germany and spread across Europe and then through immigrants to Canada and the United States. Now when we take the kids to the forest, they call conifers Christmas trees.