Legends Of The Christmas Tree
Here are a few things that may help you appreciate your tree.
Before we get too far along in celebrating Christmas, there are a few things that may help you appreciate your tree.
As most of you know, there is a long tradition of using evergreens in winter celebrations. Dr. C. Hole in the book, Protective Symbols in the Home, wrote,
“Long before the Christian era began, evergreens which flourish when everything else in nature is withered and dead, were regarded as symbols of undying life, and used in magical rites to ensure the return of vegetation. The sacred buildings of Europe and Western Asia were decked with them for the Winter Solstice rituals.”
Most of us no longer celebrate those Winter Solstice rituals, nor I suspect do we regard our trees as anything more than hangers to hold those decorations for Christmas morning.
Legend has it that Martin Luther gave us our first decorated Christmas tree. The story goes that he wandered outside one bright, star-lit Christmas eve and awed by the millions of shining stars, he set up a tree for his children and covered it with hundreds of lit candles. Whether this is true, the first recorded use of a decorated Christmas tree comes from 1605. Sources in Strasburg, Germany recount, “At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlours of Strasburg and hand thereon rose cut out of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, and sweets.”
Christmas trees arrived in England with the court of George III in the 1800s. The various merchants, soldiers and courtiers who accompanied King George from Germany brought these Christmas traditions with them. However, using decorated trees at Christmas did not catch the public fancy until Queen Victoria and Prince Albert set up a huge tree at Windsor Castle. Reported in the press, complete with illustrations, the Christmas tree craze was born and we’ve not been the same since.
I note that even in the early 1900s, Christmas trees were still only for the well-to-do. The landowners or merchants would set up a tree and invite all the local children to look at the lit candles and decorations. The poor could not afford the luxury or burning candles merely for decoration.
A friend of ours decorated his tree with candles and one of our Christmas outings was to visit and sit around a candle-lit tree sipping our mulled cider and hot chocolate. They were beautiful, but I confess to being very mindful of lit candles next to a resinous evergreen.
After electricity became common, light bulbs replaced candles and towns erected decorated trees in public places for all to enjoy. The first of the recorded electric-lit public trees took place in Pasadena, California in 1909.
While our society is guilty of succumbing to advertising jingles and pressures, sometimes putting up Christmas trees just after Halloween, the traditions are much more restrictive than that. In most traditions, families did not bring Christmas greenery into the house until Christmas Eve –although this was probably more respected in theory than in operating fact. Homeowners also removed the tree before Twelfth Night or January 6.
Practical Safety Tips
As a note of practicality in these history notes, keep your tree well watered this season. The needles will hold their moisture and stay greener for a longer time.
The most important reason for keeping the tree well watered is that dry needles are serious fire hazards and fire can start from the heat of a nearby electric light bulb against dry foliage.
Once ignited, it only takes three seconds to engulf the tree with flames and it is almost impossible to extinguish with household fire systems. A few gallons of water and a few minutes every day or two can easily prevent a Christmas tragedy.
If You Use A Live Tree
There is a trend to use live trees as Christmas trees and if you do this, keep these tips in mind:
- A spray of antidesiccant (Christmas tree preservative) will stop the needles from losing water.
- Bring the tree indoors on Christmas Eve just before you decorate it.
- Take it back outdoors December 26.
- Keep the soil ball well watered and do not let the temperature around the roots reach 5F (roots die at that temperature.)
- Plant in the spring when the ground thaws out
However you celebrate this holiday season, I hope you can find it in your heart to bring some love into this world.
Love, in life or gardening, is really the most important thing we share and my Christmas wish for you would be that you will find and share some love with those around you.