EnviroThursday - "The Roots of the Real Christmas Tree: The Production of Space and Meaning in 20th Century America"

12:00 PM  - 1:00 PM
Thursday Mar 14, 2013
Olin-Rice Science Center 250

Speaker: Neil Prendergast, Univ. of WI - Stevens Point

For many Americans, the choice to buy a real Christmas tree is also a decision to select authenticity over artificiality. A ‘real’ Christmas tree, in the minds of many, is a biological tree, a tree grown from a seed, a tree that smells like the woods. It is the opposite of an ‘artificial’ tree made from plastic and aluminum. You know this. This framework is the most common for thinking about how Christmas trees might be connected to nature or even be nature. This lens of authenticity, though, is a relatively recent development, dating back only to the mid-twentieth century, a time when another lens for thinking about nature’s place at Christmas was waning. That lens was conservation. In the early twentieth century, prominent conservationists such as J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day, decried the cutting of trees for Christmas, arguing that cutting wasted future timber supplies. For decades, conservation-minded Americans attempted a variety of solutions to this perceived problem. Not until the success of tree farms in the 1950s did they find their answer. As this talk aims to show, tree farming as both an idea and a practice helped shift the public conversation about Christmas trees from conservation to authenticity. In exploring this shift, the talk unearths connections between how Americans produce space and cultivate meaning—connections long buried, but that nonetheless lie at the roots of the ‘real’ Christmas tree.

Refreshments provided

Contact: Ann Esson,

This event is for: Students, Staff and Faculty

Sponsored By: Environmental Studies

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