Thursday, 02 December 2021 13:44

Gardening with Peter Bowden: “A Tree Ever Green”

By Peter Bowden | Home & Garden
Photo by Peter Bowden. Photo by Peter Bowden.

The symbolism and use of trees as decorations at this time of year are far older than many of us suspect.

It is known, for instance, that pre-Christian Romans displayed decorated evergreens (oak trees which are evergreen in that part of the world). They lit the tree with candles and often topped the tree with a sun symbol. The ancient Celts of the British Isles also ornamented oak trees with apples and candles to offer thanks to the sun during the solstice period.

Many of us can still remember when the Christmas tree wasn’t put up until Christmas Eve. This tradition likely had its roots (no pun intended, well...maybe) in the English tradition of bringing home the Yule log on Christmas Eve. The Yule log was generally a large stump, often including the roots, and was decorated with mistletoe, holly and other greenery. The log was lighted with a bit of the previous year’s log (thus protecting the house from fire for the upcoming year) and needed to be kept burning for at least twelve hours to ensure continued good fortune.

With the advent of central heating, the appeal of the Yule log has been all but forgotten.

The evergreen tree as the tree of choice for solstice celebrating appears to have its origins in the Christianizing of the Germanic tribes of Eastern Europe. Some of the earliest accounts tell of St. Boniface dedicating the fir tree to the Christ Child with the oath “You are the light of the world, a tree ever green” to counter the sacred oak of Odin in the eighth century.

Other accounts credit Martin Luther as the first to bring home a cut evergreen tree and decorate it with candles that symbolize the stars in the sky over Bethlehem the night Christ was born. 

Hundreds of years passed until the tradition of decorating evergreen trees at Christmas became common. It wasn’t until 1841 when King Albert displayed a decorated evergreen tree in his palace that the tradition took hold in English speaking countries.

Like the American people, American Holiday celebrations have become a melting pot of customs and traditions brought to our shores from the older cultures of our forefathers. The evergreen, ancient symbol of life everlasting is still included as the bright focal point of a celebration of rebirth, light and life.

Whatever the origins of the practice, I love the smell of a fresh evergreen when I bring it inside. The trick is to keep the tree hydrated so the needles stay on and the tree stay fresh and fragrant. The first step is to get a fresh tree. When you’re out in the tree lot picking out your tree, bend the little branch tips to make sure they are supple, not brittle. 

Next, make sure to make a fresh cut on the base of the tree right before you bring it inside. A fresh cut exposes fresh cells that can absorb water and send it along to the cells above right out to the branches and needles. 

When you place the tree into the stand, fill the stand up with very hot water. Hot water is absorbed more quickly than cold water so the tree will re-hydrate as quickly as possible. You don’t need to use hot water every time you add water to the stand; just the first time. Make sure that the tree stand always has water in it. If you let it run dry, the tree will suck air into the bottom cells again and it won’t be able to absorb water until another fresh cut is made. Remember: Fresh Tree, Fresh Cut and Fresh Water. 

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