By the City of Chandler Communications and Public Affairs Department
The holidays are almost here! Let’s get ready to celebrate Chandler’s unique and world famous…cotton boll wreaths!
You’ve never heard about the amazing cotton boll Christmas wreaths that decorated the downtown square and were the talk of the town in December 1957?
Well, according to the story, a committee was formed in 1957 to develop ideas for new decorations for display in the downtown plaza and on 80 light poles along Arizona Avenue. Several different decorations were constructed by residents, including 4-foot-wide wreaths made from cotton bolls and painted silver, and which would be mounted on the light poles. The new wreaths were the talk of the town, and the Chandler Arizonan newspaper accounts gushed over the uniqueness and beauty that the wreaths brought to downtown.
So, if these wreaths were so great, how come we don’t still have silver cotton boll wreaths decorating downtown Chandler every holiday season?
It’s because that same year, with much less fanfare, the town’s people also were inspired to build another unique decoration in the downtown plaza—a Christmas tree made from tumbleweeds.
At first, the Tumbleweed Tree seemed like an afterthought and gained little attention in the newspaper. Construction updates were nonexistent, and mere mention of the tree was scarce. It was not until the Christmas edition of the paper was printed that a photo of the tree finally appeared. A community sing was held surrounding the tree, but the advertisement for the event failed to mention that the tree was not pine, but rather tumbleweed.
Within a few years, sentiment had shifted and the people realized that it was the annual Tumbleweed Tree that best served as the seasonal centerpoint for the community. By 1959, the Arizonan newspaper was boasting about the “great Tumbleweed Tree,” and the excitement over the cotton boll wreaths had dissipated. The Arizonan even suggested that readers send photos and postcards of the tree to friends and relatives around the country to boast about its uniqueness.
Chandler’s Tumbleweed Tree may have been overshadowed by a bunch of wreath decorations initially, but every year since, the icon has grown in stature. It now holds a secure place in our history and our hearts as the community’s oldest, most unique and beloved holiday tradition. The addition of the annual Parade of Lights in 1990 expanded the festivities into a holiday extravaganza that brings thousands of residents and visitors to downtown Chandler each year.
Chandler Parks staff will begin constructing the 60th Tumbleweed Tree the week of Nov. 5 in preparation for the lighting ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 3. The festivities begin at 4:30 p.m., with the Parade of Lights at 7 p.m., followed immediately by Mayor Jay Tibshraeny and members of the City Council flipping the switch to light thousands of lights.
The Tumbleweed Tree symbolizes what is best about the City of Chandler. It was created out of hardship when the people of Chandler were inspired to innovate and work together to design and build new decorations that would reflect the resourcefulness and uniqueness of its residents. Every year since, the people join with family, friends and neighbors around the Tumbleweed Tree to celebrate Christmas and the holidays, together as one.
Past attendees of Chandler’s annual holiday fête are invited to upload pictures of their favorite Tumbleweed Tree Lighting & Parade of Lights memories. Pictures will be incorporated into special 60th annual Tumbleweed Tree tributes and advertising. For those with photos who need computer assistance, the City is offering to scan photos from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the Tumbleweed Recreation Center. For more information, email email@example.com or visit chandleraz.gov/tumbleweedtree.
Details for this article and several photos were provided by the Chandler Museum. More information and images of the Tumbleweed Tree are available online at chandlerpedia.org.
How is it done?
For the 60th Tumbleweed Tree, the Parks crews started collecting tumbleweeds in early October. Nearly 1,000 tumbleweeds were collected and 600 to 800 will be used to adorn a wire frame connected to a metal center pole. Then, the tumbleweeds will be shaped then sprayed with 50 gallons of flame retardant and 45 gallons of gloss white paint. While the paint is wet, the crew will dust the tumbleweeds with 70 pounds of glitter. Next, the tree is adorned with approximately 1,200 holiday lights that give it a spectacular look, day or night. After the star is placed on top, the Tumbleweed Tree will be 35 feet tall.
What are tumbleweeds?
Salsola tragus, or Russian thistle, has become a symbol of the West.
In the 1890s, the Russian thistle invaded the West, driving farmers from their homes. Botanist Lyster Hoxie Dewey discovered the seeds arrived in contaminated flaxseed from Russia that was planted on a farm in South Dakota. Then it spread like…weeds!
In the winter, the plant dies and becomes brittle and thorny. Gusts of wind then break the plant off its stem. The tumbleweeds roll as far as they can go before piling up against fences, homes and schools. Some of the plants can be as large as Smart cars! While a Russian thistle is tumbling, the plant drops seeds and spreads them along its path. There are 250,000 seeds in each tumbleweed! Today, Russian thistle grows in every U.S. state except Alaska.
Source: The Weed That Won the West, by George Johnson, National Geographic, December 2013. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/12/tumbleweeds/johnson-text
USDA Plants Database http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=SALSO