- The Washington Times - Monday, December 24, 2001

The Christmas tree needled a lot of people and faced a number of Scrooges in the course of finding a place in the American home.
The Christmas tree met its first obstacle government regulations when it was introduced in Germany around 1530, perhaps as an extension of the existing tradition of decorating trees on special days such as Easter.
Trees placed in the home had to be elfish, with a typical law stipulating that no individual "shall have for Christmas more than one bush of more than eight shoe lengths."
A second barrier was that the custom was slow to catch on outside Germany. Not until the early 19th century, when the German and British royal families intermarried, did trees begin to appear among London's better families.
Even then, however, evergreens were not nearly as numerous in Britain as in Germany. Charles Dickens had no holiday tree in his novel "A Christmas Carol" (1843), and even in 1857 "The Christmas Tree Annual," published in London, found contributors attempting to promote the custom mostly by recounting their unique experiences.
One such account said: "At a signal from my mother, we followed her into the dining room … On the table in the centre, there was placed a great Christmas Tree hung all over with lamps and bon-bons and toys and sweetmeats and bags of cakes … It was quite a new fashion, the Christmas tree; and my brother Tom, who had just come home from Germany, had superintended its getting up and decoration."
German immigrants to the United States in the 1800s took their Christmas tree tradition with them, but American businessmen were quick to make a modification that evoked a bah-humbug reaction: The tree, entrepreneurs suggested, should be huge, the better to decorate with business products.
The overweight tree gave rise to another problem fires. Candles on big trees were notorious for causing enormous property damage and loss of lives, especially in major cities like New York, where in 1883 the holiday conflagrations led The New York Times to call for a total tree ban.
"The Christmas tree," editorialized The Times, "dropping melted wax upon the carpet, filling all nervous people with a dread of fire … diffusing the poison of rationalism thinly disguised as the perfume of hemlock, should have no place in our beloved land."
Fortunately, Thomas Alva Edison came to the rescue with an incandescent tree bulb, which was produced commercially by 1885, but The Times still had a dour disposition.
"The little children of the rich," it wrote in 1894, "have grown critical with overabundance, and nothing short of an electric tree with fairy effects produced by that wizard bower, satisfies them. It is easy to spend $100 on the electricity alone if it is brought into the house for this single service."
But electric lights went down in price and up in technological refinement. President Grover Cleveland was proud to put electric lights on the White House tree in 1895, much to the delight of daughters Ruth and Esther, ages 4 and 2.
By the turn of the century, the Christmas tree became modern and revered in America. But it would have to fight one major opponent on its way to total acceptance.
President Theodore Roosevelt was a conservationist who thought evergreens would become an endangered flora. In 1901, his first year as president, Teddy turned thumbs down on an official tree at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Nevertheless, two of his sons a year later secretly put a Christmas tree in one of their rooms, leading an embarrassed president to rethink his official White House ban. And in good Washington fashion, Roosevelt compromised in the remainder of his term in office: No official tree would decorate the residence, but a small one was permissible in one of the children's rooms.

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