Public Art of the Week: The state Christmas tree


“I think I shall never see. A poem as pretty as a tree.” This simple line by poet Joyce Kilmer referred to a living tree, but it can apply to this year’s State of Michigan Christmas tree. This past Friday evening, Silver Bells culminated with the lighting the 60-foot spruce from Onaway, in the northeastern corner of the Lower Peninsula.

The event goes back to 1986. The second year was Michigan’s Sesquicentennial, and  Gov. Jim Blanchard declared he wanted a tree at the Capitol taller than the tree at Rockefeller Center in New York. It towered 75 feet.

The erecting of Christmas trees in public squares across the country has been a long tradition in this country, but the history of the Christmas tree can be traced to the early 1400s to medieval Germany, when trees hung with fruit and snacks for children.

The tradition of the Christmas tree as ephemeral public art began in the U.S. as early as the mid-1800s. Benjamin Harrison was the first president to have a Christmas tree in the White House, in 1899. President Calvin Coolidge lit the first outdoor tree on the Capitol Mall in 1923.

At some point, the erection of a Christmas tree was seen as a Christian tradition, but in more recent years it is considered a secular celebration. This year, the tree lighting got an exclamation point when the Detroit Lions logo appeared in the sky like a modern-day bat signal.

Public Art of the Week is a new feature that rotates with Eyesore of the Week. If you have an idea for either, please email or call (517) 999-6704.


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