This Holiday season marks the 500th anniversary of "Christmas" tree decorating, with the first ornamental evergreen tree being reported in 1510 in Riga, Latvia. That tree - which was decorated with flowers - sparked a world-wide tradition that is still celebrated today.
Approximately 25-30 million "real" Christmas trees are currently sold each year in the United States. For Joyce and Leon Plaetz, of rural Wabasso, cutting down a Christmas tree and decorating it with love is an annual tradition.
"We go every year," Joyce said. "I'm from Perham and we used to have a tree farm up there. When my mom was alive, we went every Thanksgiving and brought two or three trees back for me and my sisters and other people."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
White ropes where Christmas trees used to hang before being purchased are visible at Greenwood Nursery in Marshall. Both Country Side Nursery in Lake Benton and Greenwood, in its Marshall and Tracy locations, sell about 200 trees a year for the holiday season.
This year, Joyce and her three daughters - Melissa, Tina and Noel - ventured to Iverson Tree Farm in search of the perfect tree. What they found was a 12-foot beauty.
"Leon was sick so he didn't go along," Joyce said. "People jokingly asked if the tree was big enough and said 'yeah, it'll do.' Everyone thought it was too big for our room, but we even have two feet above the angel's head. It's gorgeous."
Noel got the honor of cutting down the tree that day.
"Noel is a captain in the Army, so she could handle it," Joyce said. "(Iverson's) give you a saw and you just go out there and saw it down. There was a lot of snow out there that day. Our boots were hardly tall enough."
Leon - who refuses to have a fake tree - has parents who also feel the same way. Lucille and Louis Plaetz are 87- and 89-years-old.
"It's more like Christmas when it's real," Lucille said. "We've done it ever since we've been married, and we've been married for 64 years."
Traditionally, Lucille and Louis would select their own tree, but too much snow prevented them from getting to the tree farm this year. Their son Bruce brought them a 4-foot Fraser fir, Lucille's favorite.
"They keep the needles longer and they're green on top and lighter underneath," she said. "I like them the best. All of my children get real trees, too, even my daughter Nancy (Tedros) who lives in Florida."
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, Germans began decorating Christmas trees with apples in the 1600s. In parts of Germany and Austria in the 1700s, decorated evergreen tips were hung top down from the ceiling.
By the 1800s, the Christmas tree was introduced to the United States, quickly progressing from tabletop size to floor-to-ceiling.
In 1851, Christmas trees began to be sold commercially in the U.S., getting cut randomly from the forests. Two years later, Franklin Pierce became the first U.S. President to bring a Christmas tree to the White House.
Sears, Roebuck & Company started offering an artificial version around 1883.
Because of over-harvesting, conservationists became concerned in the 1900s, which prompted W.V. McGalliard to initiate the first Christmas tree farm, planting 25,000 Norway spruce on his farm in New Jersey in 1901.
Now, environmentalists have learned that real trees take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and are renewable. For every tree that is cut, 2-3 new ones are planted the following spring, according to the Minnesota Christmas Tree Association. They also provide excellent habitat for birds and small animals and help prevent water and soil erosion.
"Some people are restoring a family tradition," Ron Iverson, owner of Iverson Tree Farm, near Belview. "People seem to have a tendency to go away from the artificial tree. In 2009, there was a 7 percent increase in real tree sales. A lot of folks are grandparents and are now bringing their grandkids to cut down a tree."
Thanksgiving weekend typically kicks off the busy season for Iverson. From Friday-Sunday, Iverson said that between 500-700 people were trekking through the fields there.
"A lot of families like to come and participate in activities," Iverson said. "We have horse-drawn sleigh rides and Santa comes on the weekends."
For those who want a real tree for the holidays, but do not want to chop it down themselves, there are places like Country Side Nursery - owned by Steve and Penny Krause - in Lake Benton or Greenwood Nursery - owned by Jeff and Sue Farber - in Marshall and Tracy.
"We sell about 200 trees in seven varieties," Penny Krause said. "Our trees come from all over, including Nova Scotia and North Carolina. They're all hanging inside, so they're not out in the ice, wind or sun. The Fraser fir is our top seller."
Penny Krause believes that tradition is the main reason people look for real trees.
"A lot of it depends on what they grew up with," she said. "People like that tradition. We have the same families every year."
The Krauses have several trees decorated in their shop as well as at home. They also do a fundraiser, decorating over 400 wreaths a year.
"For a lot of people, it's the smell," Penny said. "Every year, there are some that go to artificial trees and some that come back."
The Farbers also bring in trees and have sold them for 30 years.
"Twenty years ago, we were selling 500 to 600 trees between the two stores," Jeff Farber said. "Now it's diminished down to 200. I think more people have gone to artificial. From the statistics I saw, about 3 to 5 percent don't do anything, 30 to 40 percent put up a real one, 40 to60 percent put up artificial ones and 10 percent flip flop around every year."
Farber said that heavy snowfall has been beneficial to them this year.
"We've had a good year. Early snow created the Christmas mood," he said. "Some people weren't able to get to tree farms because of all the snow. People like that we hang our trees inside so they can see what the it would look like hanging in their living room."
Farber said he wouldn't like storing a fake tree every year and appreciates the fact that real trees are better for the environment.
"They're biodegradable, renewable and good for the environment," he said.