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Back When America Hated Christmas Trees?
By H. Shive
Americans before 1850 never used Christmas trees! Only German immigrants used Christmas trees and only in the privacy of their homes.
Ben Franklin, George Washington, and Abe Lincoln lived their entire lives without a Christmas tree!
In 1851, the first publicly displayed Christmas tree in America was presented by a German immigrant and Lutheran pastor named Henry Schwan in Cleveland, Ohio. The uproar was immediate! Citizens in Cleveland protested! They hated the tree. It was called a “pagan throwback.”
America – as a whole – would not embrace the Christmas tree until the 20th century.
The Christmas tree was a custom brought to America by German immigrants, and - like most immigrant customs - it made the natives wary.
Christmas Tree Origin
The ancient Europeans used evergreens to celebrate the winter solstice. The fact that evergreens are still vibrant when all other plants are leafless made the ancients ascribe magical properties to these plants. Trees - including evergreens and the oak - were worshiped by the Celts and ancient Germans. Incidentally, mistletoe (an evergreen that grows on oaks) was used in fertility rites – hence the custom of kissing under the mistletoe.
But all accounts agree that Christmas trees are German in origin! Early Church saints and popes tried to destroy the practice…and failed. By medieval times, the Germans were cutting only small fir trees (due to Europe’s chronic lumber shortage) and those small trees were kept on tables with fruits and candies hanging from the branches.
British Christmas vs German Christmas
European Christmas celebrations were boisterous affairs (maybe too boisterous) – filled with drinking and carousing. So when the Puritans took control of England, they waged a war on Christmas!
To the Puritans, Christmas traditions had obvious pagan roots, were excuses for debauchery, and had no biblical origin. Christmas decorations were banned and destroyed. Puritans fined those who celebrated Christmas – even fined businesses that were closed on Christmas Day!
Puritans controlled England and the early American colonies for 50 years. When the Puritans left, Christmas returned, granted with a more subdued tone.
British Christmas and early Christmas were low-key affairs. Holly, wreaths, and mistletoe were still there. But no Christmas trees!
Christmas was a working day. Interestingly, the U.S. Congress met on Christmas Day for business from 1789 to 1855!
American Tree Haters?
Henry Schwan’s first public tree in Cleveland changed everything. Christmas trees could now be in the public’s eye!
And the public fell in love...eventually.
In 1851, the first Christmas tree lot was established in Washington Market in New York City.
The rest is history.
The “New” American Tradition
Some say Franklin Pierce was the first President to use a Christmas tree. Even if he did, the tradition did not take hold.
However, Benjamin Harrison was more likely the first President to use a Christmas tree in the White House. This time the tradition stuck.
Calvin Coolidge was the first President to make the lighting of the White House Christmas Tree an annual Presidential tradition.
Around the year 1900, only one in five American family homes featured a Christmas tree. By 1930, the practice was universal.
So maybe there is magic in an evergreen tree. At the very least, the tradition has a magical stamina!
Crump, William D. The Christmas Encyclopedia. McFarland & Company, 2001.
Forbes, Bruce David. Christmas: A Candid History. University of California Press, 2007.
Canned Pumpkin is NOT Canned Squash: It’s Called Science
By Heath Shive
Every year, some writer thinks there is a pumpkin-conspiracy and publishes something like this corny article in Mental Floss: "Canned Pumpkin Isn't Actually Canned Pumpkin."
It's a lie.
As exciting as that might be – to attach paranoia to a pumpkin pie – here's the real science!
Pumpkin Pie Isn’t Squash, Jack-o-Lanterns Aren’t Zucchinis
Did you know that the classic orange pumpkin and the zucchini...are the same plant? They're both members of the species Cucurbita pepo!
But we don't call jack-o-lanterns "carved zucchinis," do we?
Canned pumpkin is primarily made with the Dickinson pumpkin. Libby’s brand of canned pumpkin is made exclusively of a variety of Dickinson pumpkin. That’s because the Dickinson pumpkin is the best tasting pumpkin. Pumpkin pies in the United States are overwhelmingly made from this cultivar.
Here’s the Real Science
The Dickinson pumpkin and the butternut squash are both members of the same species, Cucurbita moschata.
But that doesn't mean that they are both squashes!
Here’s another example.
Broccoli, cabbage, and brussel sprouts are all members of the same species, Brassica oleracea. But we don't say that sauerkraut is made of broccoli or that cole slaw is made from brussel sprouts!
And we don't say that poodles are Rottweilers (or vice versa), even though they're both from the same species.
The Dickinson pumpkin is a pumpkin! Just because its species has the butternut squash doesn't make the Dickinson pumpkin a squash...anymore than a poodle is really a Rottweiler. Or a jack-o-lantern really a zucchini. Or a cabbage is really a broccoli.
Scientific articles should be left in the hands of science-minded writers. Before blog writers and even trivia-magazines like Mental Floss go to print, they really owe their ethical best to check the facts!
It’s called Science. Science – like making a pumpkin pie – is best when you do it correctly.
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On October 18, 1898, the United States officially took possession of Puerto Rico – a trophy from the recent Spanish-American War. Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines represented the last grab of 19th-century manifest destiny – which even then was controversial.
The Philippines were granted independence after World War Two. Hawaii became a state (the 50th state) in 1959.
But Puerto Rico has been a territory ever since.
The Unincorporated Territory: The Almost-State of America
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States of America. The term “unincorporated” means that Puerto Rico is not properly a part of the U.S. All natural-born Puerto Ricans are automatically U.S. citizens. In a series of Supreme Court decisions – known as the Insular Cases – it was decided that the U.S. Constitution extends to all territorial citizens ex proprio vigore (by its own force).
However, since Puerto Rico is not a State, it does not have voting representatives in Congress. Therefore, Puerto Ricans do not vote in national elections – including Presidential elections.
Since Puerto Ricans have no vote in Congress, Puerto Rico does not have a federal income tax on island-based income. The old “no taxation without representation” legal adage still applies! Puerto Rico still pays Social Security taxes and Medicaid.
Even without a formal federal income tax, Puerto Rico still pays some federal revenues and enjoys federal services. The FBI, the military, Department of Transportation, the EPA, etc., all have offices there. This is why the federal government can (and should) be involved in aid and recovery after hurricanes.
The Future 51st State?
In a 2012, territory-wide referendum asked two questions: (1) whether Puerto Rico should maintain its current status, and (2) if Puerto Rico should change, should it become a state, independent, or in a free association.
The results? On the first question, about 54% of the voters wanted a change in political status. On the second question, about 62% wanted statehood, 33% wanted free associated status, and only 5% wanted independence.
So barely more than half of the voters wanted a change in status, but if they did change, the majority preferred statehood.
If Puerto Rico did become a state, its population of 3.4 million would make it the 30th largest state in the nation – bigger than Iowa and smaller than Connecticut.
Will you ever see an American flag with 51 stars? The future is wide open.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.