Christmas Trees

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Your leaves are faithful ever!
Not only green when summer glows
But in the winter when it snows,

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Your faithful leaves will teach me
That hope and love and constancy
Give joy and peace eternally.

— Partial verses of one version of the song “O Christmas Tree” based on the German song “O Tannenbaum,” composed by Ernst Anschütz in 1824.

The Christmas tree tradition as we know it, with trees brought into the home and decorated, began in Germany in the 16th century. In the 1800s German immigrants brought this tradition to the United States, but the tradition was not accepted by most Americans at the time as they considered a Christmas tree a pagan symbol. Then in 1846, the Illustrated London News published a sketch of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their children standing around a Christmas tree. Due to Queen Victoria’s popularity and a desire to emulate the royal family’s customs, the Christmas tree became a popular decoration among high-society families in America.

Starting in 1851 Christmas trees began to be sold commercially in the United States, procured at random from nearby forests. In 1883 Sears, Roebuck & Company began selling artificial Christmas trees. The popularity of real Christmas trees increased across the country in the 1890s, so much so that by the early 1900s the national supply dwindled due to overharvesting.

The first Christmas tree farm was started in 1901, located in New Jersey. In 2012, the last year for which data are available,1 there were a total of 15,494 Christmas tree farms in the United States, down from 17,367 in 2007.

In 2015, 25.9 million real Christmas trees and 12.5 million artificial Christmas trees were sold. Most people who bought real trees bought them from choose and harvest farms, followed by chain stores and nonprofit groups. On average, a real Christmas tree cost $50.82 in 2015, up from $36.50 in 2008. Today’s market sizes show the total amount people spent on Christmas trees in the United States in 2015.

1 2017 data is currently being compiled for the Census of Agriculture by the United States Department of Agriculture. The data will be published starting in February 2019.

Geographic reference: United States
Year: 2015
Market size: (Real trees) $1.32 billion
Market size: (Artificial trees) $854 million
Sources: “Consumer Survey Results,” National Christmas Tree Association, 2017 available online here; “Table 35. Cut Christmas Trees: 2012 and 2007,” 2012 Census of Agriculture, USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, May 2, 2014 available online here; “History of Christmas Trees,”, 2009 available online here; “History of Christmas Trees,” National Christmas Tree Association, 2017 available online here; “O Christmas Tree Version 8,” The Hymns and Carols of Christmas available online here; “O Tannenbaum,” Wikipedia, September 25, 2017 available online here.
Audio source: Modified from Kevin MacLeod, “Oh, Christmas Tree Length: 3 minutes 58 seconds,” available online from Wikimedia Commons here. Originally available online here from License: CC-BY 2.0.