Singing Christmas Tree
A Singing Christmas Tree, sometimes called a Living Christmas Tree, is an artificial Christmas tree filled with singers used as part of nativity plays. First appearing in 1933 at Belhaven University, they later made their debut indoors in 1956 in Sacramento, California. Constructed of steel, the tree is actually a conical circular sector where between one-third and one-half of an actual Christmas tree is shown. Depending upon tree size, they can accompany between 30 and 450 singers. These trees can be put up by churches or communities depending upon the location. Since then, the singing Christmas tree concept has spread to Canada, the Philippines, South Korea, Switzerland and Sri Lanka. The most attended tree takes place in Knoxville, Tennessee, with 60,000 attendees in 2007.
The first Christmas trees came to the United States in the 1740s from Moravian (now part of the Czech Republic) settlers. In 1851, the first commercial tree lot in the United States was set up in New York City. President of the United States Franklin Pierce set up the first Christmas tree in the White House in 1856. Artificial trees were first developed in Germany in the 19th century over concerns of deforestation in the their native homeland along with fire safety issues. By the 1960s, artificial trees become very popular in the United States.
Christmas caroling originated in Europe in the 13th century with an interest in the birth of Jesus, including the nativity. Caroling continued throughout Europe until the Protestant Reformation of 1517–1648 which led to the halt of the religious use of carols in some Protestant countries, such as England and Scotland. Despite being banned from European churches, they were still sung in homes and by door-to-door carolers on begging visits (charity solicitations) during Christmas despite protestations from the Puritan revolution in England in the 1640s. Caroling was done a limited basis between 1660 and the 19th century. By 1878, caroling was revived by the Church of England when it was combined with scripture reading to form a worship service called "Lessons and Carols". Caroling's growth has continued into the 20th century both in Europe and the United States and is now part of Christmas music.
One of the caroling traditions in homes was to sing around the Christmas tree. In 1933, Belhaven College (Belhaven University since 1 January 2010) in Jackson, Mississippi, became the first place to have a "Singing Christmas Tree" though it has been outdoors on an annual basis. The first indoor singing Christmas tree would take place in December of 1941 at Denver's West High School in Colorado. The first performance featured fifty students dressed in choir robes, adorned with glittering home-made ornaments and halos. Every singer held evergreen branches and stood on a wooden framework in the shape of a Christmas tree and sang nine Christmas carols at a school assembly. Since its inception, the high school choir tree has received nationwide and international recognition. During World War II, pictures of the tree were printed in many major newspapers, eliciting letters from soldiers around the world who responded to the simple, yet awesome beauty of the tree. A decade after its creation, a life-size photograph of the tree was displayed in New York's Rockefeller Center. The tree was first used as an outreach tool for Christmas in 1963 in Van Nuys, California. The first steel-framed tree with choir risers was constructed by Millard Heath Specialties of Denton, Texas, for the First Baptist Church in their city in 1972 (That tree was still in use in Callahan, Florida, as of April 2005.). Millard Heath alone has constructed over 200 "trees" for churches in 30 American states and outside the United States.
Among the locations for Singing Christmas Trees outside the United States are in Pampanga, Philippines; Suwon, South Korea; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; and Zurich, Switzerland. The current tallest Singing Christmas Tree in America is in Muskegon, Michigan at 67 feet tall, 55 piece band and 300 choir students. This is put on by Mona Shores High School under the direction of Shawn Lawton.
Tree structure and composition
Singing Christmas Trees are constructed to hold between 30 and 450 choral singers at one time. These trees can come in four models ranging in height from 18 to 48 feet (5.5 to 14.6 m) for indoor use and can be custom fit for outdoor use. They can also come in circular design of 120, 150, or 180 degree models. Trees can also have seating for choir members with special needs. They are fitted with artificial fireproof evergreen leaves and Christmas lights in an effort to lessen workload assembly and disassembly. Besides lighting, they are fitted with controls to allow for usage by a master control within a church sanctuary or community. As an example, the a tree in Huntsville, Alabama, holds 150 singers, is 30 feet (9.1 m) tall (39 feet (12 m) tall if the star at the top of tree is included), consumes 36 kW of electrical power during its performance run on an annual basis, weighs 6,000 pounds (2,700 kg), uses 377 pieces of structural steel that is bolted with over 800 pieces, uses 7500 pieces of artificial greenery, and has over 13,000 lights.
Choral composition within the tree
Choral composition within the tree ideally would have an equal number of men and women in the tree with the sopranos and/or lighter members at the top of the tree, followed by the altos and tenors in the middle of the tree, and the bass and heavier singers at the bottom of the tree. In reality, they are arranged in six sections. They are broken down with two sections of sopranos, two sections of altos, a section of tenors, and a section of bass. Singers who require sitting in a chair or a stool during the performance are located in the bottom two rows of the tree. Choir members who are acrophobic (fear of heights) are located near the bottom of the tree while claustrophobic (fear of restriction or suffocation) choir members are located at the outside of the tree. Most choir members stand for the entire time period of the performance. Male choir members are arranged in the middle of the tree.
Tree as part of the Christmas program
Many trees are part of nativity plays or nativity scenes that celebrate the birth of Jesus. As an example, the First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Virginia, had theirs in 2009 dealing with the spirit of Christmas despite the chaos of a college freshman coming home to find their grandparents moving into their parents house along with other relatives visiting during Christmas vacation.
Noted Singing or Living Christmas trees
- The Belhaven College Tree is the oldest tree done in 1933.
- The Singing Christmas Tree in Portland, Oregon, for 2009 had noted guest singers such as Timothy Greenridge, Michael Allen Harrison, Georgine Rice, Aaron Meyer, and The Jefferson Dancers.
- Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, features singing Christmas trees decorated with a custom midi light set that changes colors and design that is precisely synched to music.
- Carolina Voices in Charlotte, North Carolina, also uses four ensembles outside their tree to promote the Christmas message.
- Sevier Heights Baptist Church of Knoxville, Tennessee, began theirs in 1989 at their church, drawing 2800 people. The tree was held at the church annually until 1994. The following year, the tree moved to the Tennessee Theatre in downtown Knoxville where they started with six performances and 10,000 attendees in 1995 to twelve performances and 19,000 attendees in 2000. By 2001, the tree moved again to Thompson-Boling Arena, located on the campus of the University of Tennessee where 37,000 people total saw the tree in four separate performances. 55,000 attended the 2006 tree while 60,000 people attended the five services of the 2007 tree that also involved 600 salvations. The 2008 tree included Spanish translation along with 350 salvations.
- In 2009, several trees posted on the Internet also had their 25th presentation. Among them were Ozark Christian College (Joplin, Missouri), United Baptist Church of Ashland, Kentucky; and First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama. The First Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama, celebrated their 30th year of the tree in 2009.
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- "SM unveils 'singing' Christmas tree." Sun Star (Pampanga, Philippines). It's also the featured annual Christmas concert at Greenhills Christian Fellowship in Ortigas Center, Pasig City, Philippines. 7 December 2009. Accessed 15 December 2009.
- Millardheath.com photo gallery of Living Christmas Trees worldwide, including the tree in Suwon, South Korea. – accessed 15 December 2009.
- LivingChristmasTree.ca in Winnipeg, MB, Canada. – accessed 15 December 2009.
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- First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama, Living Christmas Tree information. – accessed 16 December 2009.