City, Events, News

Boston’s official Christmas tree travels 659 miles from Nova Scotia

Boston’s official Christmas tree arrived at the Boston Common Tuesday morning after a two-day journey from Nova Scotia, Canada. Spectators gathered to welcome the annual gift, a symbol of long-held friendship between the two regions.

The 45-foot white spruce arrived on a large yellow truck. Walking ahead of the vehicle was James Stewart from Nova Scotia, who has served as the town crier at the welcome event for six consecutive years, according to the Boston Globe.

Boston’s official Christmas tree in the Boston Common, which arrived from Nova Scotia Tuesday morning. CAROLINE FERNANDEZ/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

After the truck was parked, Stewart opened a scroll and said, “Oyez, oyez, oyez,” ringing a bell in between each word. He proceeded to speak about the tree and its history.

Nova Scotia’s tradition of gifting Boston a tree around Christmastime dates back to 1917, when more than 2,000 people died in Halifax after a steamship collided with another vessel packed with explosives. 

Ryan Woods, commissioner of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, said Boston was one of the first places that sent aid to help with the disaster.

“Boston was the first [city] to go out on a train with doctors, nurses, medical physicians with band-aid supplies, gauze, everything you can imagine,” Woods said.

In 1918, one year after the incident, Nova Scotia gifted Boston a Christmas tree as a token of gratitude. The tradition lapsed for several decades until it was revived in 1971. Every year since, Nova Scotia has given Boston its annual Christmas tree to celebrate their bond. 

Woods said he believes the tradition is unique because of the underlying history.

“I think people enjoy the tree and seeing it lit up at night,” Woods said. “But the tree is that much more extra special because of the message that’s behind it.”

This year, the tree was donated by Desmond Waithe and Corina Saunders of Chance Harbour, Pictou County, according to the Boston Parks and Rec. Woods said that in Nova Scotia, a land and forest tree division looks at different trees to see which one will be a good fit for shape and size and the selection process takes about three years.

“We’re usually looking for something between 42 and 50 feet,” Woods said. “With the trucks and coming across the border and all that, we can’t really do much more than a 50-foot tree.”

Mary Kate McKinnon, a fourth-grade teacher at Mather Elementary School in Dorchester, said the school has been doing a pen pal program with St. Stephen’s Elementary in Halifax. She said both she and her class were fortunate to have pen pals in Halifax.

“I’m very proud of them learning about the history of the Christmas tree,” McKinnon said, “and the friendship that we have with the city of Halifax up in Nova Scotia.” 

McKinnon also said the pen pal program has been instructive in teaching her students about cultural similarities between the two groups, despite living in different countries.

“We have a lot of things in common with one another and we’re happy to celebrate our friendship,” McKinnon said.

Back Bay resident Kathleen Fitzgibbon, 73, is a nurse at the Massachusetts General Hospital School of Nursing, which she said was instrumental in giving aid to Halifax after the explosion. 

“I went to Mass. General School of Nursing, and a lot of the medical help that went [to Hailfax] was from Mass. General,” Fitzgibbon said. “So, I felt very proud of my school.”

Fitzgibbon said she enjoyed viewing the event.

“Oh, it was great,” Fitzgibbon said. “I feel like a kid.”

Kelli Brannan, 65, of Beacon Hill, said she first noticed the tradition last year when she saw the tree arrive from her bedroom window. She said this year was her first year attending the event.

“I love seeing [the town crier] in uniform and that’s what caught my attention from my apartment last year,” Brannan said. “If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth coming out to see. It’s a wonderful tradition and it is a wonderful bond between the two countries.”

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