Evergreen trees have been used in winter celebrations since before the time of Christ. Decorated evergreen trees were used in association with Christmas celebrations in 16th century Germany. German immigrants brought the tradition with them to Pennsylvania in the 1830s. The custom was just beginning to catch on across the country in 1889 when Benjamin Harrison became the first president to place a Christmas tree in the White House. Since then, only one president has refrained from decorating the White House with a Christmas tree during the holiday season.
Bad for the Environment
Theodore Roosevelt, who was president from 1901 to 1908, forbade the display of Christmas trees in the White House. He believed that cutting evergreen trees for decorative purposes caused deforestation and was bad for the environment. As a conservationist, he was also concerned that his political opponents could use the seemingly hypocritical display of a Christmas tree against him.
The Roosevelt Christmas Tree
During his second year in the White House, two of Roosevelt's sons – Archie and Quentin – chopped down an evergreen tree from the White House grounds and hid it in a closet in the room in which they opened presents. Roosevelt responded by taking his sons to speak to his environmental adviser, Gifford Pinchot. Pinchot surprised the president by expressing the opinion to the the Roosevelt boys that cutting down trees could be beneficial for the environment if done responsibly and that Christmas tree harvesters planted two trees for each one they harvested.
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