News

Why Does Boston Still Accept a Christmas Tree from Nova Scotia Every Year?

Nova Scotia has shown its gratitude for Boston’s aid after the great Halifax Explosion by giving our city a Christmas tree every winter. Isn't it time we consider the debt paid and get a local tree?


Welcome to “One Last Question,” a new series where research editor Matthew Reed Baker tackles your most Bostonian conundrums. Have a question? Email him at [email protected].


Photo via iStock/DenisTangneyJr.

Question:

I know that for the longest time, Nova Scotia has shown its gratitude for Boston’s aid after the great Halifax Explosion by giving us a Christmas tree every winter. It’s a nice gesture! But isn’t it finally time we consider the debt paid and get a local tree?

–F.A., Wellesley

Answer:

When your question first crossed my desk, F.A., I couldn’t help but wonder: Who is this Scrooge? After all, this is a tradition that makes everyone feel good, and hey—free tree! But first, let’s quickly revisit some history: After a ship collision in Halifax Harbour on December 6, 1917, a French steamer caught fire and its cargo of 3,000 tons of explosives detonated, leveling most of downtown Halifax and killing some 2,000 people. Within 24 hours, Boston had dispatched supplies, money, and medical personnel in this time of darkest need. The following Christmas, Nova Scotia sent us a tree as thanks, and since 1971 we’ve gotten one from up north every year.

Scrooge tendencies aside, your question intrigued me. After all, it’s not uncommon that as history fades, so too can the urgency of obligations. So I posed your exact question to officials from both the city of Boston and the province of Nova Scotia—and their responses, offered completely separately, were surprising only in how much they mirrored each other. “It is a tradition that we hope to carry on for years to come,” said Lynette MacLeod, of the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture & Heritage. “This is a tradition that we hope will endure for many years to come,” echoed Ryan Woods, deputy commissioner of Boston Parks and Recreation.

Furthermore, Woods says, the gift is a chance to “show our appreciation and continue our friendship.” For example, Boston students have been known to become pen pals with Haligonian schoolkids after learning about the explosion. And at a time when relations between our countries’ leaders have all the amity of a midweek Bruins-Habs game, such camaraderie seems all the more precious. This year’s 47-foot white spruce was proudly donated by a couple named Ross McKellar and Teresa Simpson, and, like every year, Nova Scotia sent it off with much ceremonial fanfare. It remains a big deal up there!

If that doesn’t give your heart the warm and cuddlies, consider this: They may have different passports, but many Nova Scotians are citizens of Red Sox Nation. In fact, maybe we’ll even bring the World Series trophy up to Halifax again on its victory tour, as we’ve done in the past. If we must be mercenary about such things, that’s not a bad exchange.