In December 1918 Halifax sent a Christmas tree to Boston as a token of gratitude to the citizens of Boston for their help following the Halifax Explosion of 1917.
It was December 6th, 1917, when the French cargo ship “Mont Blanc” laden with high explosives, collided with the Norwegian vessel “SS Imo” and caught fire. The explosion that followed was the largest man-made explosion of the pre-nuclear era. Entire neighborhoods were destroyed, windows were shuttered up to 60-miles away, nearly 2,000 people died and more than 9,000 people were injured.
The authorities of Boston learned of the disaster by telegraph and the governor of Massachusetts, Samuel W. McCall dispatched a train carrying doctors, Red Cross nurses, and medical supplies to the devastated city. They set up hospitals and built shelters for the survivors and even put Christmas trees in the field hospitals. As a token of their appreciation, the people of Halifax sent a Christmas tree to Boston the next year.
The story might have ended there but in 1971, the city of Halifax renewed the bond by present another Christmas tree and since then, every year, the people of Nova Scotia sent a Christmas tree to Boston under the supervision of exacting standards set by the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources. The specifications are balsam fir, white spruce, or red spruce. The tree has to be forty to fifty feet tall, well colored, and with medium to heavy density. Another specification is uniformity and easy access. The Christmas trees that Halifax sends to Boston usually come from an open land where they can grow tall and full.
Each year the Christmas tree is selected by the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources Christmas Tree Specialist. It is not an easy job because the Christmas Tree Specialist has to remember the locations of the best Christmas trees in the province. After finding the suitable tree, his next task is to convince the owners to give them up for a very small amount of money.
Representatives from the province together with hundreds of local school children and representatives from the United States Consulate in Halifax attend the tree cutting ceremony. After the ceremony, the tree travels over 750 miles to Boston where it arrives under police escort.
The tree lighting ceremony takes place on the Common in late November or early December and attracts more than 20,000 people. Until 2002 the Christmas tree was placed at the Prudential Center, but it was moved to the Boston Common because of planned development.