"Oh, Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, How beautiful and bright. The sight of Thee at Christmas tide Spreads hope and gladness Far and wide." These words from the traditional German song echo many sentiments of Christmas trees.

Christmas trees are thought to have originated in Germany about the eighth century. Saint Boniface was a missionary to the Germans and replaced sacrifices to idols by a fir tree adorned as a tribute to the Christ child. There is mention in 1821 of Christmas trees being introduced in America by Pennsylvania Germans. In 1830 a newspaper carried the notice that admission of 6 1/4 cents admits the bearer to see a Christmas tree. Shortly thereafter, Christmas trees were widely adopted by families throughout the country.Other greenery, traditionally associated with Christmas, actually pre-dated Christmas trees. Early Saxons used evergreen trees and vines including ivy, holly and bay in religious rites, and started customs still followed today.

Christmas trees are a major industry, and millions of trees are cut from farms or native stands. Virtually any kind of evergreen tree can be used, but some are more attractive and last longer than others. Douglas firs are generally native and are the least expensive trees. Other firs and pines make excellent trees. Spruces, in spite of their beautiful shape, tend to drop needles badly and are not as satisfactory except as living trees.

Selecting the trees requires attention to the kind of tree and the condition. Make sure the needles are flexible and are firmly attached. Bounce the tree on the pavement two or three times to check for needle drop.

After purchasing the tree, cut several inches off the stump end, and place the tree in warm water. Warm water is taken into the tree faster and replenishes water lost through transpiration.

Add tree preservatives to the water to keep it in better condition. Commercial preservatives such as Floralife are available from florist and tree lots. Follow the manufacturer's direction as to how much and how often to use their products. Clear soda pop such as Sprite or 7-Up also works well. Don't use diet pops - the trees need the sugar. Add 1/4 cup of soda pop to three cups of water and fill the tree stand. Another substitute is one teaspoon sugar and two or three drops of household bleach per quart of warm water. Never let the water level get below the base of the tree or the cut end seals off. It is then necessary to recut the stump to get it to take up additional water. It is very difficult to saw a tree trunk with streams of lights and ornaments already attached.

Tree preservatives are also sprayed on the needles of the tree. These compounds, known as anti-transpirants, form a waxy layer and prevent water loss from the needles. Three brand names available in nurseries include Wilt-Pruf, Cloud Cover and Nu-Film. Many nurseries use anti-transpirants on their trees. Check to see if they've been applied as there is no need to spray trees twice.

Conditions inside the home also determine how well the tree lasts. Avoid trees near heat registers, as the hot, dry air causes damage. Keep trees well away from fireplaces andwood-burning stoves. Evergreens fuel forest fires and are a serious hazard if not properly placed and maintained. Miniature lights are the best choice, as they are not as hot or as heavy. This further reduces fire hazards on the trees. I remember my grandmother had small candle holders that clipped on the tree for Christmas lights. Fortunately these are no longer used. Candles and trees do not mix, so avoid potential indoor bonfires by keeping trees and flames well separated.

Living Christmas trees are more popular each year, and many nurseries offer them. The big disadvantage is the size of the root ball necessary to keep the tree alive. Living Christmas trees must be carefully watered and sheltered from the elements. They prefer not to be indoors through the entire Christmas season and do best if indoors only seven to 10 days.

The Salt Lake City Cemetery tree project is a great place to utilize a living Christmas tree if you don't fancy digging a hole in frozen soil. Donations of living Christmas trees will be used to replace trees that have died at the cemetery. The trees must be at least 5 feet tall excluding the root ball and be one of the following species: pinyon pine, Austrian pine, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, mountain redwood, Scotch pine or blue spruce. Donations of the trees are tax deductible. If you would like more information, call the urban forestry office at 972-7818.

Christmas trees have been and will continue to be a part of Christmas for many years. Careful selection, proper care and placement in the home will add that special festive touch to the holiday season.