The Christmas Tree

Putting up the Christmas tree every year can be a hassle, but it truly would not be Christmas in my home without one. Humanity has used fir trees (or similar conifers) as part of their celebration of Christmas for thousands of years. So even though there are few things in this world as frustrating as stringing lights around every limb of your tree, it is tradition and must be done! As Christmas comes to an end and you take down your Christmas tree, try and think about the actual science and significance behind the Christmas tree.

photography of trees covered with snow
Photo by Radu Andrei Razvan on

The Significance: We know trees have been used in celebrations of Christmas for thousands of years, but why does everyone always use fir trees? The evergreen fir tree, which wears green needles all year round, has been used for its symbol of living spring to come (most trees at winter time appear dead and leafless, thus making them a terrible symbol of life). Whether your fir tree is fake or real, its green branches which you decorate every year has been used as a symbol of everlasting life with God by Christians worldwide. The evergreen fir tree is a Christmas celebration of life and better times ahead.

orange and blue and white snow forest
Photo by aj povey on

The Science: Now that we know the significance behind the use of fir trees, let’s talk about the actual science behind these symbols of life. Like most living things, trees need to have some strategies for surviving the bitter cold of winter. Some trees use thick bark to regulate their internal temperatures. Other trees shed their leaves to protect against the harshness of winter. Trees absorb energy from the sun using leaves. In the winter, the sun is not in the sky long enough for leaves to be useful in absorbing sunlight, plus leaves during winter means potential water loss and damage to the tree from excess snow and wind, so trees just get rid of them. However, fir trees (and other conifers) have green needles instead of leaves. These needles are effective at absorbing sunlight all year and it takes very little energy on the tree’s part to keep the needles around. The branches of fir trees are built so they can shed snow much better than other trees and the needles also contain a waxy coating which protects the tree from water loss and freezing.

The evergreen fir tree, the ultimate symbol of winter survival and of life just around the bitter cold corner of winter.

Science word of the week: “Conifer”— A tree that bears cones and evergreen needle-like leaves.

For additional insight on the topic of trees’ winter adaptations, visit this excellent website:

If you read this whole blog post, you are my hero! Thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave me a comment and feedback below. Also, let me know if there is any particular science topic you would like me to look at “through green tinted glasses” and I will write about it.

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