Oh, say, can you tree? American Christmas tree traditions

December 17, 2013

Victorian German style Christmas Xmas tree1899To anyone who enjoys Christmas trees, we say “Wie treu sind deine Blätter!” This means “how faithful are your branches”, a line from “O Tannenbaum,” the German Christmas carol. “O Tannenbaum” (Oh Christmas Tree)* was originally a folk song from Germany that’s been translated to English and sung here in the United States for years. In fact, Nat King Cole sang a classic version in German if you’re ever interested in hearing the original version. A bit of trivia: *The tune for “O Tannenbaum” is also used for the state song of Maryland—if you’re from there, or went to university there, you might have heard the state song if you haven’t heard the holiday version! Just like they got us hooked on the song about evergreens, Germany was instrumental in getting us hooked on the decorated Christmas tree tradition as well.

German immigrants really started the modern craze for Christmas trees that came to the United States in the early 1800s. Queen Victoria, who helped set fashions for the Western world in the mid to late 1800s, helped the trend along with her family Christmas tree (which she may have learned about from her German husband, Albert). (Image above depicts a Victorian era Christmas celebration.)

The evergreen tree is likely a Yule custom carried over and remade from Celtic and/or Scandinavian pagans. Regardless of the origins of the custom of bringing an evergreen into your dwelling place during the year’s darkest days, this much is for sure: having a Christmas tree is now a tried and true American holiday tradition.

Since Christmas trees have become more secular and are so popular, the Christmas tree industry is a huge business in the United States. In 2007, Americans spent over $460 million on cut trees. The Federal government wants to support this industry, and people’s holiday happiness.

TREE AND FIRE SAFETY

To help people keep their holidays safe, the Federal government publishes a number of Christmas tree fire safety publications, such as the U.S. Fire Safety Administration’s (USFA) Christmas/Christmas Tree Fires and December and Holiday Fires.

FEMA-USFA-holiday-fire-safety-infographicImage: US Fire Safety Administration’s Winter Holiday Fire Safety infographic.

According to the USFA, fire deaths increase by 50% between December 24 and 26, and injuries during that period increase by 61%.  As the USFA pointed out, “In residential structure fires where the ignition point is a Christmas tree or other holiday decoration, the fire is typically more severe in every measurable way (p.2)”. For tips on avoiding Christmas tree fires, and to view a video on proper Christmas tree safety, take a look at USFA’s Holiday & Christmas Tree Fire Safety Outreach Materials. You’ll be able to increase your awareness and look out for your family’s welfare while continuing to enjoy your household decorations.

CUTTING YOUR OWN TREE FROM A NATIONAL FOREST

If you and/or your family enjoy going out to pick a tree and cut it, you might be able to pick one up from a national forest. For example, the Federal government has harvested all of the Capitol Christmas trees from national forests. In fact, the 2009 tree was a blue spruce that came from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

Certain forests have designated areas where it is possible to cut Christmas trees, once you have paid for your cutting permit. Contact your local national forest for its policies; you’re especially likely to find Christmas tree cutting areas in the West. Some national forests post their Christmas tree maps online. You can download Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Soldotna, Alaska: Christmas Tree Cutting Areas and Maps of 2013 Cutting Areas in the Apache and Sitgreaves National Forests. You’ll be pulling your tree from a prestigious tree-growing area, if you do decide to get a permit from a national forest.

The trees are for personal use only, and Forest Service allows only one tree per household. Permits for the trees are quite cheap, compared to what I paid at my local Washington, DC, area hardware store. You do have to factor into the cost a bit more money for the gas it takes to haul a tree out of the forest and get it home. However, some experiences, such as holiday traditions spent together with family and friends, are priceless.

PLANTING AND CARING FOR YOUR LIVE TREE

Why-would-anyone-cut-a-tree-down? by US Forest Service ISBN: 9780160916267Some families buy live Christmas trees then plant them when the holidays are over, while others use a cut tree for the holidays then plant a new tree in the spring as a symbol of renewal.

To explain to children the need for cutting trees as well as the value of this renewable resource, the Forest Service has published the best-selling publication “Why Would Anyone Cut a Tree Down?” It is full of explanations of need to remove trees for fire management and helping prevent overcrowding, and gives instructions on how to plant a tree as well.

How-to-Prune-Trees How-to-Recognize-Defects-in-TreesTo care for your live tree once it’s planted, be sure to check out How to Prune Trees to keep your tree looking and growing its best.

And the useful How To Recognize Hazardous Defects in Trees will help you identify problems in a tree that could be detrimental to its health.

FAMOUS WASHINGTON, DC AREA CHRISTMAS TREES

Here in the Nation’s capital, there are a number of famous Christmas trees.

National Christmas Tree and the Pathway of Peace

Since 1923, the United States has held a tradition of having a National Christmas Tree lighting in Washington, DC, starting with President Coolidge lighting the “First National Christmas Tree.” Starting in 1954, a “Pathway of Peace,” 56 smaller, decorated trees representing all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia were planted surrounding the National Christmas Tree. They stay decorated through New Year’s Day.

2012-National-Tree_Pathway-of-PeaceImage: 2012 National Christmas Tree and Pathway of Peace on Ellipse behind the White House. Credit: National Park Service

Today, the annual lighting ceremony on the Ellipse—the grassy area south of the White House— is usually televised with tickets given by lottery in advance, with celebrities and the President and First Family doing the honors of lighting the National Christmas Tree and kicking off the season.

The Capitol Christmas Tree

The annual Capitol Christmas Tree lighting held on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol has been an American tradition since 1964 and is a great holiday event that you don’t want to miss. However, the official practice of lighting the “Capitol Christmas Tree” did not start until 1968 according to the Architect of the Capitol.

2013-Capitol-Xmas-TreeImage: 2013 Capitol Christmas Tree. Image source: Architect of the Capitol.

The Capitol Christmas Tree should not to be confused with the National Christmas Tree, which is planted near the White House and lighted every year by the President and First Lady. The Speaker of the House officially lights the Capitol Christmas Tree.

“Yule” Scream for the Norwegian Embassy Tree

A lesser known but charming Capital City tradition comes from Norway. Since 1996, the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C. has given a Christmas tree to the American people as a symbol of friendship between the United States and Norway. The lighted tree is usually decorated with both U.S. and Norwegian flags, and can be found in DC’s Union Station train station. As explained by the Norwegian ambassador in the annual lighting ceremony attended by high-level U.S. military  and Government officials as guests, the gift of the Norway-US friendship tree also express Norway’s gratitude for the assistance received from the United States during and after World War II.

Tusen-takk-Amerika or Thank you, America banner from the Norwegian Embassy's 2013 Friendship Christmas Tree at Union Station in Washington, DC. Photo copyright: Michele BartramImage: Norwegian Embassy’s “Thank you, America” (Tusen Takk, Amerika!) banner at base of the Norwegian-US Friendship Xmas tree at Washington, DC’s Union Station in 2013. Image credit: Michele Bartram

From a distance, all you see are the 20,000 lights and the American and Norwegian flags cascading up the 32-foot tree. Upon closer inspection, this year’s visitors found 700 little reflective screaming faces on ornaments Norwegian-Embassy-Tree-Edvard-Munch-Scream-ornament-2013 from the Norwegian Embassy's 2013 Friendship Christmas Tree at Union Station in Washington, DC. Photo copyright: Michele Bartramdepicting Norwegian artist Edward Munch’s infamous “Scream” painting—placed on the tree by the humorous Norwegians in honor of 2013’s 150th anniversary of Munch’s birth.

In a way, [the “Scream”] symbolizes all the angst in preparing for an excellent Christmas,” said Norwegian Ambassador Kare Aas to the Washington Post with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Image: Edvard Munch “Scream” 2013 ornament and flag of Norway on the Norwegian Embassy Friendship Christmas Tree. Image credit: Michele Bartram

Just taking a drive around the National Mall on a December night, seeing the National Christmas Tree and the Pathway of Peace, the national menorah, the Capitol Christmas Tree, and the Norway-US Friendship Tree can put you in more of a holiday mood.

GIFTS FOR UNDER YOUR TREE

Incidentally, if you’re still looking for holiday gifts to go under your tree, GPO’s U.S. Government Bookstore has loads of gift suggestions on their Gift Guides & Calendars page. Or give an eBook for a great last-minute gift to anyone around the world.

Hanukkah is past this year and there are only a few days left before Christmas day, but then again, there are always gift opportunities on Hogmanay, New Year’s Day, and Three King’s Day (Los Reyes Magos)/ Epiphany, too!

HOW CAN YOU GET THE PUBLICATIONS LISTED HERE?

And remember, worldwide standard SHIPPING IS FREE on the U.S. Government Bookstore website, so shop away!

  • Shop Online: Download the free publications listed by clicking on the links in the article above.
    You can purchase the print and ebook publications mentioned from the U.S. Government Online Bookstore at http://bookstore.gpo.gov by clicking on the individual links above in this blog post or the links below:

  • Order by Phone: Call our Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.
  • Shop our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions from this collection at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.
  • Visit a Federal Depository Library: Search for one of these publications in a nearby Federal depository library.

About the author(s): Adapted and expanded by Government Book Talk Editor-in-Chief and the US Government Printing Office (GPO) Promotions & Ecommerce Manager, Michele Bartram, from an original blog post by Jennifer K. Davis from GPO’s Library Services & Content Management Division that supports the Federal Depository Libraries Program (FDLP). Happy holidays from us both!


Get Sunwise and Block the Sun, Not the Fun

June 3, 2013

School’s out and the sun’s out, too, so it is time to teach kids about sun safety, particularly as June 2-8 is National Sun Safety Week. With children playing in the backyard, at the park, or in the pool or at the beach, it is important for parents to be aware of sun safety and for kids to be responsible for their own well-being when it comes to the sun.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has two great resources as part of their SunWise program. The Mission: Sunwise Activity Book 2013 is an educational, hands-on way for kids to learn about sun safety, and the companion website – SunWise – provides parents, teachers, and babysitters with additional resources for teaching children about the harmful effects of the sun.

Fulfill the Mission to Get “Sunwise”

mission_sunwise_activity_book_Page_01The Mission: SunWise Activity Book 2013 targets children in kindergarten through 8th grade and takes a more thorough approach to sun safety. Children learn about the ozone layer, ultraviolet rays, the UV Index, thermometers and preventative actions to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun.

There are more than a dozen activities including drawing and coloring, matching, word scrambles and fill in the blanks to engage children in sun safety lessons. The activity book doesn’t just tell kids to wear sun screen and play in the shade, but explains what causes sunburns and why it is important to be “sunwise.” [Says GovBookTalk Editor Michele Bartram: "My favorite page is the "Slip, Slop, Slap, Wrap, Check, Play" page!"]

Parent and Teacher Sun Safety Resources

The EPA’s Sunwise sun safety website, http://www2.epa.gov/sunwise, has endless resources for adults and children. Teachers can download suggested lesson plans with PowerPoint presentations and sign-up for the SunWise Program to receive free toolkits that have age appropriate content and activities for their classrooms. Children can play interactive sun safety games, take quizzes and become “Sun Safety Certified.”

Together, adults and children can learn about the UV Index scale and the suggested precautions that go with each category and the health effects of overexposure to UV rays.  It even has Skin Cancer Fact Sheets by state showing the skin cancer rates and Action Steps for Sun Safety.

The website’s content is well-organized and can be translated into Spanish to reach a greater audience.

EPA-Sunwise-WebsiteAnother useful site is from the not-for-profit Sun Safety Alliance, (también en español) which offers its “Block the Sun, Not the Fun” program in addition to sponsoring National Sun Safety Week. 

Graphic-Skin-cancer-video-Sun-Safety-AllianceThe website includes resources for Educators, including this Teacher’s Guide; Healthcare Professionals; Parents and Early Childcare personnel; and a Kids site. It also has activities for children from infants and toddlerspre-school age, and kindergarten to 2nd grade, to grades 3 to 5, middle school,and  all the way through high school.

Image: From a video on the Sun Safety Alliance home page, showing the effects of skin cancer on a former suntan addict. She says, “I wish I knew then what I can see now!”

It is not fun to avoid the sun and sit inside all summer. So be proactive and start the summer out right by taking preventative actions to avoid sunburns. Keep in mind that there is more to sun safety than just putting on sun screen.

HOW DO I OBTAIN the “Mission: SunWise Activity Book 2013”?

  • Buy it online 24/7 on GPO’s U.S. Government Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s main retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a a federal depository library.

About the Authors: Our guest blogger is Emma Wojtowicz, Public Relations Specialist in GPO’s Office of Public Affairs. Additional content was provided by Government Book Talk Editor Michele Bartram, Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division.


School safety by the numbers

March 9, 2012

Guest blogger GPO Public Relations Specialist Emma Wojtowicz discusses a publication about safety in schools.

School safety is a concern. The recent school shooting at the public high school in Chardon, Ohio, reminds us that any school is susceptible to violence and tragedy. Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2010, a publication by the Department of Education and Department of Justice, thoroughly examines the various indicators that threaten the safety of our nation’s schools.

The information and data in this report was collected through surveys conducted from 2007-2009. While this report is regularly published to help policymakers and schools develop ways to keeps schools safe and prevent crime and violence, it makes for an interesting read given recent events.

The report identifies 21 indicators that threaten the safety of schools. The indicators encompass a variety of problems like victimization, bullying, injury, fights, use of drugs and alcohol and weapons possession. Charts and graphs illustrate the data collected about each of the problems with breakdowns by age, ethnicity, gender, public versus private school, and urban versus rural school location.

Is your child afraid at school? For example, this chart shows the number of students from 12-18 who feel threatened at school or away from school. Here, Black students feel the most afraid at school, with Hispanics second, but Hispanic students feel more threatened outside of school than any other group. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)

There are also comparisons for some indicators between being at school and outside of school.

Who’s carrying? For example, the above graph from the book shows the percentage of high school students who carried a weapon on and off school property at least once in the last 30 days. The highest weapon-carrying groups were American Indians, Pacific Islanders and White students, with Asian and Black students as the lowest groups. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)

The content is organized well with a brief explanation about each indicators followed by the data depicted through charts and graphs making for easy navigation if there is a specific topic you are interested in.

Some interesting findings during the 2007-2008 school year:

  • Victims of bullying are about same for males and females: 30% of male students and 33% of female students reported being bullied
  • 5% of students reported being afraid of attack or harm at school
  • 1% of public schools have daily metal detector checks and 5% of public school have random metal detector checks
  • 6% of students reported carrying a weapon to school and 17% of students reported carrying a weapon anywhere in a 30-day period
  • 21 school-associated homicides occurred
  • 43% of public schools reported they have an electronic notification system for a school-wide emergency in place

It is difficult to analyze these statistics and determine whether or not schools are safe. From scanning the various line graphs, it is easy to notice there has been a decline over the years from the mid-1990s to 2009 regarding most of the indicators. Hopefully, this data is used to improve and strengthen the safety of schools. As our country was reminded on February 27 in Chardon, Ohio, any school is at risk and we must be steadfast in the effort to reduce the risks that leads to tragedy.

What measures are in place to keep your child safe at school? This chart from the book shows what school security measures have been put in place overall since 1999, the year of the Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. While all measures increased since 1999, many have dropped from a former high rate in 2003-5, such as use of security guards, metal detectors, locker checks or visible student ID badges. The only measures that have consistently grown over the years are: use of security cameras, instituting a code of student conduct, locked entrance and exit doors during the day, and a requirement that visitors to the school sign in. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)

HOW DO I OBTAIN THIS “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2010” BOOK?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

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