Christmas tradition in a living tree

Where does the tradition of bringing a tree into your home to celebrate Christmas come from? It took a little research but it turns out the tradition is very ancient indeed.

Long before Christians started to celebrate Christmas, many cultures around the world celebrated this very special time of year we know as Solstice. Here in Ireland our ancient relatives built Newgrange over 5000 years ago to mark and honour this magical time of year when the daylight is at its shortest. Ancient Egyptians celebrated by decorating their temples and homes with evergreen trees and wreaths. The plants represented everlasting life, peace, and opulence, which was important because winter was a time when their sun god, Ra, was ill and weak. After the solstice, Ra would slowly start glowing brighter and stronger, and an evergreen’s immortality symbolised the triumph of life over death.

The Egyptians weren’t the only ones bringing the plant indoors. In Scandinavia, the Vikings believed evergreens were special gifts from Balder, their god of light and peace. Celtic Druids started bringing evergreens into the home around the eighth century. Before then, the Druids worshipped oak trees as their idol. But English Benedictine monk St. Boniface, a man who devoted his life to converting pagans, offered the Druids a triangular-shaped balsam fir tree as a symbol of the Trinity, and it went on to replace their beloved oaks. They then used evergreens to adorn their temples as a celebration of life without death, hanging mistletoe sprigs over their doorways and windows to ward off evil spirits of diseases.

Around the 16th century German Christians built pyramids of wood and adorned them with evergreens and candles outside to celebrate Jesus’ birth. German theologian and priest Martin Luther, in awe of the magical, sparkling trees shining bright outside, decided to recapture the beautiful scene for his family by bringing the tree inside and covering it with wire and candles.

In 1846, Queen Victoria, was sketched with her children and husband, Prince Albert, alongside a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle. Because Queen Victoria was so popular, the sketch instantly became an iconic one and went mainstream worldwide. By the early 20th century, Americans had large floor-to-ceiling trees and decorated them with homemade items like popcorn strings, marzipan cookies, nuts, apples, and candles. The introduction of electricity brought about string lights instead of candles, as Thomas Edison also created the first strand of electric lights in 1880. By 1903, General Electric offered pre-assembled kits for everyday customers to buy.

Fast-forward to 2021 and the United Nations climate change COP26 conference has just finished in Glasgow. It is obvious to all that many changes are needed on so many levels around the world. Over 600,000 healthy trees will be cut down in Ireland this year to celebrate Christmas. As a nation, we are becoming more aware of the importance of trees and their role in a healthy ecosystem. This huge waste of land, trees and resources just to decorate a tree for a couple of weeks, seems very strange to me, as there is a natural alternative, if like most people, you want to have a Christmas tree to celebrate Christmas. The alternative is a living Christmas tree!

Even if you do not have anywhere to plant it out after the big day, we have successfully grown living Christmas trees in pots for four to five seasons, as long as they do not dry out in summer and have some liquid feed each year. I also recommend sinking the pot half way into the ground, if you have the space as the roots will quickly anchor into the ground and find water and food. Simply dig under the pot in early December each season cut the roots and clean the pot. You may have to increase the size of pot every few seasons but this cost is small compared to the savings of getting a few seasons from a single tree, which has grown and shared each Christmas with you and your family!

When the tree has outgrown your room space, it can get a few more years as an outside Christmas tree if placed in the right spot. If you do not have the space in your own garden, or do not have a garden, ask a friend or neighbour who does, and enjoy their smile as you give them a free tree! Most varieties of Christmas trees will grow on to become beautiful additions to any garden. They will provide year-round shelter for other plants and wildlife, absorb carbon and release oxygen. If they become too big for your garden or you need more room for future generations of Christmas trees, they make fantastic firewood to keep you warm over the winter!

After selling living Christmas trees for over 35 years here at Deelish, we have found smaller trees usually have a better chance of transplanting after the holidays. You also get more years to reuse it after your first Christmas. Thankfully there has been a change over the last few years and many homes and commercial growers are now making the switch to living trees. However, be aware of some sellers supplying ‘living Christmas trees’, as many of these have simply been dug up from a tree farm with no understanding that the roots need to be undercut each year, and will have little or no chance of transplanting after Christmas. 

Here at Deelish Garden Centre, we have never sold cut trees and never plan to; as we feel dead trees are bad for the business we are in, as well as the environment. This year we are sourcing our trees from a specialist Christmas tree grower and have potted trees, which are trees that have had their roots undercut each year by the grower, then dug from the ground and potted up. 

Feel free to come and have a look at the full selection of Christmas trees at the garden centre, and we will be happy to help you select the perfect tree for your situation.

On a side note we will be open all Sundays (11am-5pm) in December leading up to Christmas. Two of these Sundays we will be hosting our first ever Christmas Craft Fair with 40 local artisan craft stalls, food and coffee trailers and a few surprises for all our visitors on the December 5 and 12. 

Wishing a very Happy Christmas to all our customers and West Cork People readers, from all of us here, at Deelish Garden Centre. Here’s to a brighter and greener 2022!

Noah Chase

Noah Chase manages a family run nursery, Deelish Garden Centre in Skibbereen.

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