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The Christmas tree - a festive focus

The Christmas tree - a festive focus

As you decorate and admire the festive centrepiece that is your Christmas tree, you may not realise that its tradition originated in central Europe, particularly in Germany and the Baltic countries in the sixteenth century. Tom Houlihan, Teagasc Forestry Development Department, tells us more.

At this time, devout Christians were said to have brought decorated trees into their homes. Earliest decorations included flowers made of coloured paper, apples, wafers and tinsel.

Sources suggest that Martin Luther (1483 – 1546), a central character in the Reformation, may have been one of the first individuals to add lighted candles, by wiring them to the tree, to reflect the twinkling stars in the sky – not a practice to be recommended today – safety first!

It was reputedly during the reign of Queen Victoria that Christmas trees were introduced to Ireland and they became more common from the later part of the nineteenth century. However, evergreen foliage such as native holly had long been used in homes and was considered to possess protective powers. With its tough wood, spiny evergreen leaves and bright red berries, holly was also viewed as a symbol of strength, magical powers and purification.

Growing your trees

Ireland has the climate and soil types to produce the very best quality Christmas trees. Irish growers produce around 650,000 Christmas trees each year with 450,000 sold at home and about 200,000 exported abroad, mainly to the UK, France and Germany. The industry contributes €21 million to the Irish economy.

Growing good quality Christmas trees is a skilled, labour-intensive job. Production of Christmas trees requires relatively fertile, slightly acidic soils in areas that are not too exposed. It includes: initial planting; replacement of failures; control of the surrounding vegetation; fertilising; side shaping; shearing and bud pinching; monitoring for any pest and disease; final selection; and tagging. So the next time you admire your tree, consider also the abundance of skilled work that has gone into its production.


Do you know the actual tree species that forms the centrepiece in your home this year? The two main species grown are Nordmann fir and Noble fir. Both are non-shed and have replaced the traditional Norway spruce. Nordmann fir, with its dense form and slightly upright branches, is suitable for heavier soils and is relatively easy to work with. Noble fir, known for its fragrance, is more site-demanding and requires more intensive management.

Trees are general grown on a 10-year rotation and are separated into two quality categories, generally breaking down 50:50 into premium and first choice. Trees are colour-tagged and sold by height. Your support, by selecting a vibrant and quality Irish Christmas tree, is important for our dedicated and skilled Christmas tree growers.

Like all other trees, Christmas trees capture carbon as they grow. Christmas trees are a sustainable product as new trees will replace the trees that are harvested each year. Trees will also begin to release carbon when harvested. When Christmas is over, sustainable disposal of your tree is important from a carbon perspective. For example, disposal of trees at recycling centres will allow for chipping and sustainable use at their end of life, helping keep the carbon footprint to a minimum.

Nollaig Shona is Athbhliain Faoi Mhaise!