The Legend of the Kentucky Hardwood Christmas Tree

According to legend, there was a time during the Great Depression, about 1930 or 1931, when a family from the hills of Eastern Kentucky came up the idea of making a reasonable facsimile of a Christmas Tree from the trunk of a hardwood tree. During that time period, the economy was going through a very low time. No one in Elliott County had any money. No work was available for earning it, either.

Elliott County residents raised or gathered their food. Neighbors traded services. Commodities such as eggs or butter were traded for other essentials. A family lived in a section of the county where pine trees, often used for Christmas trees didn’t grow. Obtaining one from a neighboring county several miles away was a tremendous chore since automobiles were not plentiful and gasoline could not be wasted on frivolous items or trips. Parents and children alike became adept at making things, not only things practical, but beautiful as well.

One day while gathering and chopping wood for the stove that heated the house and on which the food was cooked, an elderly gentleman got the idea that thhe similarity of a Christmas tree could be obtained through the proper use of a saw and axe.

So, with saw and axe in hand, and saving each scrap of wood for the stove, for nothing was wasted those days, he proceeded to carve, or sculpt if you will, a Christmas tree for his family. The tree was saved from Christmas to Christmas.

And when the Elliott County gentleman left this world, the tree was given to his oldest daughter.She cherished the tree, but wanted others to share in this loving tradition. So the hardwood tree tradition caught on in the hills of Eastern Kentucky.

Today the art has been revived and is practiced by a few ancestors of that Elliott County folk. Wood of many kinds is now being used for the aroma or because a certain wood grain is pleasing to the eye. Also today, the carving and crafting is done with a chainsaw rather than a “one-man crosscut” saw and axe.

Because each piece of wood looks and works differently, and because all Christmas trees are individually crafted, no two are alike. Each has its own character and characteristics. Nonetheless, the same basic shape, design, and thought go into each one as when that elderly gentleman carved the first one nearly 75 years ago.