Germans: Creators (and Disposers) of Christmas Trees

In the Christmas tree game, Germans have been great innovators for half a millennium.

First of all, there’s the belief — widespread among historians — that Christmas trees originated in 15th- or 16th-century Germany, where they grew out of a pagan Yule tradition. Later, German Christians incorporated the existing symbol as part of an emerging system of religious practices. By the early 1800s, the Yule tree (often decked with fruits and nuts) had given way to the Christmas tree (adorned with garland, lights, and often topped with a stylized star or angel figurine).

But Germany’s arboreal inventiveness doesn’t end there — the country is also home to one of the most innovative Christmas-tree recycling methods in the world.

Tree-sellers in Dresden, Berlin, and Cologne donate much of their leftover stock to zoos, where elephants, giraffes, llamas, and and other animals munch on would-have-been Christmas trees.

Apparently, the animals are attracted to the strong scent of the trees — and they prefer the cold, pungent ones that have been stored outside during the holiday season over the dried-out (and possibly ornament-strewn or chemical-treated) conifers that have been proudly propped up in living rooms across the country.

The trees’ needles — in addition to being delicious — also help keep the big herbivores’ teeth clean. And, it just so happens, elephants can scarf down up to three trees per day — a feat that puts the rather meager accomplishment of decorating a living room tree into perspective.

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