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1960: Aluminum Christmas trees come to Canada

Is it a marvel of yuletide convenience or a crass beacon of commercialism? Either way, the aluminum Christmas tree has come to Canada. The trees are shipped from the United States. They sell in Canadian department stores for between $5 and $20. In this clip, CBC Radio reporter Tom Robinson expresses a mixture of disdain and admiration for slot-together "tannenbaums." A box of boughs, he notes, is a far cry from the good old days.

Before men sold firs and pines in vacant lots, families delighted in driving to snow-covered forests to chop down their own. On the other hand, these space-age aluminum models are fireproof and they never drop needles. And, surprisingly, they look pretty good, what with all that shiny metal gleaming and glittering.
• Aluminum Christmas trees flourished for about a decade, from the 1950s until the late 1960s. They came in a variety of sizes, from table-top models to giants that brushed the ceiling. Colour choices included green, pink, blue, red, gold and silver. Many were illuminated from below by multi-coloured lights; some lights rotated. Manufacturers warned buyers not to attach lights to boughs for fear of electrical shock.

• The earliest artificial Christmas trees appeared in Germany in the 1800s. They were made of wire covered with goose, turkey, ostrich or swan feathers. Often, the feathers were dyed green to resemble pine needles. The first trees with brush-like boughs were manufactured by an American company which also made toilet brushes. Most artificial trees sold today look much more realistic.

• An estimated 46 million North American homes have artificial Christmas trees. The Canadian Christmas Tree Growers' Association and the U.S.-based National Christmas Tree Association are trying to make the real thing more popular. They promote the purchase of natural trees and lobby governments to protect the interests of tree growers and sellers.

• Canada's favourite species of natural Christmas trees are balsam fir, Fraser fir, Scotch pine and white spruce. They take on average seven to 10 years to mature. In 2001 Nova Scotia produced the most trees, followed by Quebec and Ontario. In 2000 Canada exported 2.5 million Christmas trees.

• Aluminum trees figure prominently in the 1965 animated television classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown and Linus are sent by their friends to buy "a great, big, shiny aluminum Christmas tree," for their yuletide play. Charlie Brown rejects the advice and buys a scrawny real tree. The message that aluminum trees represented glitzy commercialism may have helped to hasten their demise.

Also on December 22:
1969: Mary Mills is ordained the first woman deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada. Seven years later, Mills becomes one of the Church's first six women priests.
1987: Canada defeats Finland 4-1 to win the Izvestia hockey tournament in Moscow for the first time.
1990: Labour leader Lech Walesa takes the oath of office as Poland's first popularly elected president. He serves until 1995.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: Dec. 22, 1960
Guest(s):
Reporter: Tom Robinson
Duration: 1:44

Last updated: November 20, 2012

Page consulted on November 20, 2012

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