In preparing for another episode of the Merry Podcast I came across an editorial from a New York newspaper published in 1896. It contains an amazing prediction of Christmas-yet-to-come.
It is interesting to contemplate this being written considering how Christmas was celebrated in 1896 in America.
By the end of the 19th century Christmas had become the near all-encompassing celebration it is today of all things seasonally sacred and secular.
Then, like now, nobody could escape it. It was embedded everywhere.
But it is safe to say that it was still a different Christmas than what we see now.
There were no Christmas radio stations. There were no Christmas movies. And though invented in the 1880s Christmas lights were still yet to become an affordable technology (many homes still did not have electricity at the turn of the century).
Christmas trees were lit with candles and brought in from the wild – not purchased from a store or pulled out of a box.
If we could somehow magically transport ourselves to the 19th century I believe we would recognize Christmas but we no doubt would both marvel and mourn what is missing.
Think about that as you read this editorial about Christmas tree fires:
Though it is now more than a fortnight since Christmas Eve, fire continues to rage in the Christmas trees.
We know nothing so inflammable as the well-seasoned Christmas tree along in the first two or three weeks of January. They go off like gunpowder.
Indeed, we believe there is a chance for some inventor to devise a way for pulverizing and condensing Christmas trees and producing an explosive equaling, or perhaps exceeding, dynamite in force. It could, we believe, be produced very cheaply, since Christmas trees grow in the wild in many states of the union, notable in Vermont, and the cost of drying, grinding and condensing them out to be comparatively slight.
Then, too, at the holiday season no doubt many trees could be bought ready dried, since, if a regular market were established for them, we dare say many people would prefer to dispose of them in this way rather than to burn them in their own houses along with the houses.
We don’t know as there are any statistics showing just how much property is lost annually in this country through the combustible proclivities of the Christmas tree, but it must be a good many thousands of dollars.
In this way Christmas is becoming a more flammable holiday than the Fourth of July.
Though we hear much about forests fires every fall in Michigan, Wisconsin and other states, the true and genuinely formidable forest fires of this country rage during the fortnight after December 25 in the Christmas trees.
Instead of being covered with tinsel and tapers and presents, a Christmas tree really ought to be hung full of hand grenades, and a fireman should stand in the hall with a chemical extinguisher strapped to his back.
Though it must be said for the Christmas tree that it seldom flares up on Christmas Eve. It is then green and unseasoned, and although, if tempted too far, it may burn with considerable fury, it is not till several days later, or at about New Year’s and after, that it becomes actually explosive and perhaps well nigh lays itself open to the suspicion of spontaneous combustion.
After Christmas it is allowed to stand in the corner while the drying process goes on. This is accomplished by the application of a good degree of furnace heat, often supplemented by open fires, and perhaps the direct rays of the sun during the day.
The trunk and larger limbs become well seasoned, the bark dry and dusty and the foliage and smaller twigs crisp and brittle.
At this point it is proposed by the head of the family to cast it out, a proposition which is met by the children with loud protests and demands that it be lit up just once more.
The aforementioned head of the family yields, touches the match to the tapers, and the next day is observed lived at a hotel and in earnest consultation with an eloquent and incredulous insurance adjuster, who knows the lowest price of everything and seems to have the facilities for building a new house for about one-quarter of the amount that it would cost any other human being.
We began by offering a well-considered hint to some inventor. We shall close with a suggestion to some other experimenter. Let us have a fire-proof Christmas tree.
The trunk and the larger limbs may, perhaps, be made of terra cotta. Wire, or something of that sort, will possibly do for the smaller branches. The foliage can be fashioned from asbestos. To the whole thing can be imparted an inviting and Yule-tide green with fireproof paint, and – there you are!
The patent non-combustible Christmas tree is bound to come.