Panorama looks at the origins of the official City of Boston Christmas tree that lights up the Hub every year
by Scott Roberto


Holiday lights abound in the Boston area. Here's where you can see some of the best.

  • Faneuil Hall Marketplace: Strings of white lights enliven this already lively shopping area.
  • Downtown Crossing: Filene's features a gigantic, lighted tree atop its Washington Street facade.
  • Harvard Square: Cambridge's Sparklefest sets the venerable square a-glitter.
  • Back Bay: Commonwealth Ave. and Newbury and Boylston streets are annually aglow for the season.
  • Stone Zoo: The Zoolights festival at this gem north of Boston shines every year.

Some gifts just keep on giving.and giving.and giving. So it has been for the past several decades with the Christmas tree donated to the city of Boston by the people of Nova Scotia, Canada. As befits the spirit of the season, the tradition originated from an act of kindness when Boston came to the aid of its neighbor to the north in its hour of need nearly 90 years ago.

In the days of World War I, Halifax, Nova Scotia was a bustling port for warships headed to and from Europe. But the prosperity this brought came at a terrible price when, on the morning of December 6, 1917, a Norwegian ship and a French ship laden with explosives collided off the coast, causing a fire on the latter vessel. After almost two hours adrift, the French ship came to rest at a Halifax pier, where it soon exploded, ending the lives of nearly 2,000 people and injuring thousands more.

Boston, in the wake of the tragedy, was one of the first cities to respond, sending much-needed supplies and a large contingent of emergency workers. Because of this, the Canadian province has donated the Hub's
holiday evergreen since 1971. This year's lighting of the 46-foot white spruce on Boston Common featured Mayor Thomas Menino, who flipped the switch on the electric spectacle, and appearances by the Radio City Rockettes and the Red Sox's 2004 World Series trophy with a contingent of Sox players and brass-not to mention Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus themselves. That's enough yuletide cheer to ensure a truly jolly holiday season for all.