Exhibition drawing, Trees of Christmas exhibition, 1992. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 96-001: National Museum of American History, Department of Public Programs, Public Program Records, circa 1977-1994. Image no. SIA2020-000662.

Trees of Christmas

On December 19, 1977 Smithsonian Gardens’ first exhibition, Trees of Christmas, opened at the National Museum of American History.

Swedish Pepparkakor Tree, 1980. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 11-009: Smithsonian Photographic Services, Photographic Collection, 1971-2006. Image no. 82-547.

Cookie Tree, 1980. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 11-009: Smithsonian Photographic Services, Photographic Collection, 1971-2006. Image no. 80-553.

Swedish Tree, 1980. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 11-009: Smithsonian Photographic Services, Photographic Collection, 1971-2006. Image no. 80-568.

Armenian Tree, 1981. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 11-009: Smithsonian Photographic Services, Photographic Collection, 1971-2006. Image no. 82-545.

Trees of Christmas - Exhibition drawings, 1992. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 96-001: National Museum of American History, Department of Public Programs, Public Program Records, circa 1977-1994. Image no. SIA2020-000662.

Trees of Christmas - Exhibition drawings, 1992. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 96-001: National Museum of American History, Department of Public Programs, Public Program Records, circa 1977-1994. Image no. SIA2020-000663.

Trees of Christmas - Floor plans, 1992. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 96-001: National Museum of American History, Department of Public Programs, Public Program Records, circa 1977-1994. Image no. SIA2020-000660.

Trees of Christmas - Floor plans, 1992. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 96-001: National Museum of American History, Department of Public Programs, Public Program Records, circa 1977-1994. Image no. SIA2020-000661.

On December 19, 1977 the Trees of Christmas exhibition opened at the National Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History). This was the first exhibition by the Office of Horticulture (now Smithsonian Gardens) and featured trees with handcrafted ornaments representing a variety of countries and cultural traditions.

Trees of Christmas brochure, 1977. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 96-001: National Muse

The exhibition was based on the book Trees of Christmas by Edna Metcalfe and consisted of twelve trees, each eight to twelve-feet tall. There were two trees representing the United States: Pioneer America and Tidewater; three themed trees: Williamsburg, American Victorian, and the U.S. Community Tree; and seven trees representing other countries: Denmark, Ukraine, Brazil, Japan, Italy, Russia, and France.

Trees of Christmas brochure, 1986. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 96-001: National Muse

The Trees of Christmas exhibitions were displayed annually from 1977 to 1992. Over the years, there were close to 100 different trees displayed and thousands of ornaments created. One tree that received many comments was the Action Santa tree, which featured "rosy-cheeked, roly-poly Santas that do everything from playing lacrosse, football, and soccer to posing as a doctor, fireman, or crab trapper" and were "made of salt dough dyed with paint and slowly baked in a warm oven.” Another popular one was the Cookies tree, which was decorated with cookies in a variety of shapes along with cookie cutters. Other trees that gained attention were the Nature's Bounty tree, which was decked out with dried flowers, fruits, cones, and pods, and the Origami Around the World tree, which exhibited origami created by folders from twenty U.S. states and fifteen countries.

Inventory of the Trees of Christmas, circa 1992. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 96-001:

Holiday decorations continue to be a tradition at the Smithsonian where trees and poinsettias can be found from the Smithsonian Castle to the National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Screenshot of the Smithsonian Gardens Instagram account with six photographs of holiday plants/trees

Related Resources

  • Tis the Season at the Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
  • Edna Melcalfe, The Trees of Christmas (New York: Abindgton Press, 1969).

Related Collections

Leave a Comment

Produced by the Smithsonian Institution Archives. For copyright questions, please see the Terms of Use.