The Tradition of the Feather Tree began n the mid-19th century when cutting of trees for Christmas was banned to save German woodlands. German immigrants brought feather trees with them when they sailed across the Atlantic to the New World. Their popularity was increased when President Theodore Roosevelt also responded to the diminishing supply of fresh evergreens in America. In an effort the save the trees, He ordered that no live trees be used in the White House holiday decorations.
However, as part of White House lore, it is told that President Roosevelt was surprised and angry when he discovered that his two sons, Archie and Quentin, had smuggled a live tree into the mansion and set it up in Archie’s room. Some sources indicate that goose feather trees may have appeared in the White House as a response to Quentin and Archie’s defiance to the president.
The original feather trees, which are currently quite collectible, sometimes called the Nuremberg Christmas tree. They were the first alternates to live trees. These trees, unassembled, looked hardly like a Christmas tree since they were a series of wires wrapped with feathers, a wooden trunk, and a painted wooden base, either round or square.
Since the trees were easy to assemble and were easy to ship, they soon became available from the well known “wish book”, the Sears Roebuck Catalog, about 1920. Sears first offered trees as small as two inches tall to as tall as thirty inches. Later, trees eight feet tall were available.
Lavender and gold versions introduced in the 1930’s never became as popular as the white version that was also introduced. The white feather trees were never as popular as the green ones. As for decorations, they usually included exquisite hand-blown glass ornaments, homemade tallow candles, and fresh garland. Later, Sears offered feather trees with electric lights.
In the 1950’s a sad-looking Christmas tree similar in style to the feather tree appeared in the Charlie Brown comic strip. A sort of revival of feather trees occurred, probably in response to the popular comic hero. Some feather tree enthusiasts even refer to them as “Charlie Brown Trees.”
Many can remember having feather trees in their homes or in their grandparents’ homes. One of my fondest and earliest recollections of my grandmother includes celebrating Christmas around her goose feather tree. As soon as she set the base of the tree on a pedestal-style table and began assembling the trunk and branches, the magic of Christmas began.
In recent years, feather trees have achieved a new level of status among Christmas enthusiasts and especially Christmas crafters. The completion of a feather tree represents the epitome of craft projects as they afford the crafter the challenge of creating an enchanting reproduction of a bit of folk art as well as a family heirloom.