Where did the tradition of cutting a tree and setting it up in the house come from?
Our modern day celebrations come from a mild mix of cultures and seasonal activities. Way, way back in our ancestral heritage the earth-based spiritual people (pagans, druids, natives) would regularly decorate the seasons with natural elements from the outdoors.
A lot of it honestly was hanging herbs and plant materials to dry for use or storage. That’s why in the autumn we bring in gourds and corn husks. And in the dark of winter while you were forced indoors for long hours the pine, evergreen, mistletoe and ivy brought in for medicine and wood brought a special charm of green, of natural life and sensual earthy aromas. Christmas decorating with pine boughs if often called “hanging the greens.”
Evergreens, which flourish when all else is brown and dead, are symbols of enduring life. Evergreens are loosely defined as plants that retain their foliage and remain green year-round. Usually, the term refers to coniferous trees — trees that have needles or needle-like foliage, but it can refer to any plant that stays green all winter long, including holly.
In some countries, it was believed that evergreens would keep evil out of the home – evil spirits and ghosts, and evil in the form of illnesses. For this reason, evergreen boughs were often cut down and hung over doorways and inside the home. Our primitive fore parents brought in green branches at the festival of the Winter Solstice, which occurs every year on December 21st.
Pine and Spruce are the most famous varieties of Christmas trees and greens.
Pine with its amazing scent, is very useful in home remedies and medicines for the respiratory and circulatory systems. It’s also excellent for healing and soothing skin issues. Pine oils also contain phenols which act as natural stress relievers. In recent years, pine oil has become a popular oil for aromatherapy.
Pine trees play an important part of the beliefs and legends of many Native American and First Nations people. To many Native people, the pine tree is a symbol of wisdom and longevity. To others, its needles and sap are medicine that protects people from illnesses, witchcraft, and more.
In the countries around the world where pine trees grow, many legends, beliefs, and folklore surround this magnificent tree. To some people around the world, the pine tree is a symbol of peace. To others, it is a symbol of fertility, masculinity, and winter.
High in vitamin C, it works wonders on the respiratory system as a stimulating expectorant for congestion in the lungs. The aroma is grounding and tree essence (spirit) brings us strength and flexibility like the trees. In many traditions, Pine represents eternal life (due to its eternal evergreen color). You can make a wonderful, nourishing tea from the pine needles, cook down the sap for balms to soothe the skin, and integrate pine nuts into your cooking. You may be amazed at its scent and how it nourishes your strength.
Characteristics of other evergreens commonly used:
Spruce boughs represent hope in adversity.
Cedar is one of the more fragrant and longer lasting evergreens and indicates incorruptibility and healing.
Juniper symbolizes protection and is its aromatic scent is often used to alleviate stress, worry and despair.
Balsam and it has the symbolic meaning of eager anticipation; a familiar emotion associated with Advent. and even christmas morning when the children can tear into their presents and play with new toys.
Ivy holds one of the dearest images; that of clinging to God. It also symbolizes protection, joy and fidelity.
Any cones, nuts, or seedpods used in decorations symbolize new life, resurrection and birth. They are often used in magical rites to ensure the return of vegetation in the spring.
Many churches present a hanging of the greens ceremony which is done on or directly before the start of the Advent season, in preparation for Christmas. The service involves the placement of evergreen vegetation in the parish and around the altar. Items such as the evergreen wreath, in Christianity, carry the religious symbolism of everlasting life, a theological concept within that faith. Advent season prepares the people for the coming of Christ with each candle in the advent wreath symbolizing a specific attribute (peach, love, joy…) During the liturgy, biblical passages and other readings help explain the significance of each symbol as well at the christian or catholic traditions of Christmas.
The two traditional days when Christmas decorations are removed are Twelfth Night and Candlemas, the latter of which ends the Christmas-Epiphany season. Leaving the decorations up beyond Candlemas is historically considered to be inauspicious.
So now, when you look at your decorated tree, the wreath on your door, or the lovely evergreen arrangement on your table, you know they say more to you and your guests than Merry Christmas.
Many blessings to you and yours!