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Boston’s Christmas Tree Gifted from Nova Scotia for 51 Years

Christmas Tree Boston Common
Boston’s official Christmas tree in the Boston Common stands 45 feet tall. Nova Scotia has sent a Christmas tree to Boston every year since 1917. SAM BETSKO/DFP STAFF

Towering 45 feet over the Boston Common, Boston’s official Christmas tree from Nova Scotia commemorates a 51-year-old tradition between Boston and Nova Scotia.

In 1917, a munition boat from New York stopped overnight in Halifax before its journey overseas. Early the next morning, it collided with another boat, exploding in the harbor, killing more than 1,000 people and devastating the area around it.

“There’s even folklore tales that the explosion was heard in Cape Brenton and even from some fishers that were on the New England Seaboard,” said Tory Rushton, minister of Natural Resources and Renewables for the Province of Nova Scotia.

Boston did not receive transmission through the lines from Halifax, so after hearing of the explosion, Boston brought assistance, loading trains with medical supplies and physicians to help, Rushton said.

“For the last 51 years,” he said. “The Province of Nova Scotia has sort of undertaken that gift, and we always make sure that we send a tree down as a thank you to the people of Boston for their assistance back in 1917.”

Nova Scotia chose to send a Christmas tree as a gift because the tragedy happened so close to Christmas. 

After the tree arrives in Boston, the city engages in a celebratory tree lighting ceremony. 

According to the City of Boston, “the official holiday season kick-off in Boston includes the lighting of the City of Boston’s official Christmas tree and trees throughout Boston Common and the Public Garden.”

This year, the lighting took place on Dec. 1 from 6 to 8 p.m..

“It’s a tradition for many families in Boston,” Rushton said. “It’s a tradition that many Nova Scotia families look forward to here, especially the communities where the tree comes from.”

The celebration in Boston this year featured special performances from America’s Got Talent finalists Sons of Serendip, who met in graduate school at Boston University, Jimmy Rankin, a Nova Scotia native and award winning singer-songwriter, Reeny Smith from “Six: The Musical,” award-winning recording artist Michelle Brooks Thompson, and country music sister duo Tigirlily Gold.

The lights in the Boston Common attract citizens and visitors each year.

Natalie Weiss, a retail manager in Boston, said, “the holiday season goes pretty hard in Boston.”

At the cutting of the tree ceremony in Nova Scotia, Rushton said the community celebrates while local elementary school children perform a festive song, community college students take part in cutting down the tree and a minister speaks of the history of the tradition.

After the celebrations, the department staff from Natural Resources and Renewables and Public Works put the tree on Public Works trucks where it’s taken to the port of Halifax and is part of a celebratory parade.

The tree makes a few stops on its way to Boston, like Bangor, Maine.

During the pandemic, Nova Scotia “scaled down” their celebrations, Rushton said.

“The last two years the tree was actually loaded onto a container ship,” he continued. “We didn’t want to risk not getting a tree there in time for Boston’s celebration.”

To choose the right Christmas tree, each year Nova Scotia evaluates a list of six or seven trees that are nominated by residents according to Rushton.

“It comes from a different family each year and usually a different area of the province,” said Rushton. “This year, it came from a more rural setting from a place called Christmas Island.”

This year’s 45-foot white spruce was donated by the Townsend family.

Along with the large Christmas tree in the Commons, local Christmas tree growers in Nova Scotia also donate around 100 trees. 

“(They) go down to community organizations of Boston to share with maybe some underprivileged families or some of the food banks,” Rushton said.

Some residents like Bostonian Vik Evangjeli were not aware of the long-standing tradition of the tree.

“It’s great that it has a history and we can tie it back into something,”  Evangjeli said. “It makes me appreciate it more.”

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