In our house, we have a traditional Christmas tree, albeit a fake one. It’s got the obligatory colorful lights, ornaments, and some tinsel. It’s not the greatest looking of all trees, but we live high up over the road near our house and it looks great as one drives up the hill outside.
Well, back in 1900, students in the University of Pennsylvania’s biology department in Philadelphia opted to decorate their tree with some more unusual decorations. Forget garland: instead, long strings of vertebrate from various animals were substituted. From the tree’s branches hung all kinds of bugs and worms. Then, various types of fish were placed near the worms, suggestive of the natural desire of fish to eat the worms. (Clearly, these were all preserved specimens that the department already had.)
Other ornaments included an assortment of preserved reptiles plus birds’ nests full of eggs with mother birds positioned so that they appeared to be providing protection to their young. Stuffed monkeys were the sole representative of the mammals.
Forget the gifts under the tree. The students placed big jars that were filled with preserved cats, pigs, and chickens surrounding the base of the tree. Piles of bones, skulls, and teeth added a biting edge to the display. And let’s not forget the festive colors of green and blue molds and slime that accentuated the cheese, old boots, and rotten logs that were added to the preserved menagerie.
The article, which appeared in the Boston Globe, claimed that this was an old custom and that the lively tree was a gift to their professors.