Zac McDorrChristmas in America was celebrated at St. Augustine, Florida, as early as 1565. When President Roosevelt wanted a Christmas tree from the site of America’s first Christmas, however, he got one from a tiny island on the St. Croix River in Maine.

Samuel de Champlain was an early explorer who founded Quebec and had a Great Lake named after him. First, though, he set up a settlement on St. Croix Island in 1604, three years before Jamestown (and the Popham Colony) were settled.

This was the first French settlement in North America, though it only lasted a year. The settlers were all men, including a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister. When Christmas came around, they became the first people in North America to celebrate the holiday, north of Florida, at any rate.

(The Viking lord Leif Ericsson was a Christian, and it’s possible he celebrated Christmas at his settlement in Newfoundland, but nobody knows for sure.)

The day began with a service in a small chapel, or possible two services, one for Catholics and one for Protestants. Later came a feast, and the reading of a handwritten newspaper called the “Master William,” which was full of local events and gossip.

There was probably no tree or other decorations, but Christmas had come to New England.

On Dec. 9, 1941, two days after Pearl Harbor, a Christmas tree from St. Croix Island was cut for the White House. Roosevelt was quite familiar with the area and interested in the early settlement on the island.

Few trees remained there, but a nice 18-footer was chosen. The tree was loaded on a boat and taken nine miles to Calais, then it boarded a train for the journey to Washington. It was set up in the President’s family quarters, where Roosevelt was meeting with Winston Churchill.

Sources: “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife,” Connie Scovill Small, 1986, and www.stcroixhistorical.com.