Friday, December 9, 2011

O Tannenbaum

O Christmas Tree O Christmas Tree
Your branches green delight us!

It's fascinating how a simple green tree adorned with lights seems to awaken a childlike excitement in us...or some of us anyway!  I love when it is time to put up the tree.  Once you get the past the figuring out which lights work, the untangling of the strings of lights and get them on the tree draping just is rather enjoyable.  Like many of you, I put on Christmas music, have a hot cup of tea on hand and enjoy the tradition with the giddiness of a young child.  Even though I don't have little ones running around helping me any more, I enjoy immensely that my youngest daughter still finds time to help make this tree look incredible!  She, like me, is a visual person, so this tree has to look just right...and she is the one to make it happen!

But have you ever wondered..."why in the world do we go outside every year the first week of December in the cold and oftentimes rain, to cut down a tree, drag it home on the roof of the car, let it dry a bit, trim the branches and then comes the task of getting it to stand upright...all the while getting stuck and pricked with needles?"  My husband posed this question to me in our first year of marriage.  He is from "down under" and let's face it...a eucalyptus branch is more likely available than a Douglas Fir.  I remember a Christmas in Adelaide one year when the children were little and we were visiting family, that we found a bunch of palm-tree like branches, stuck them in a large container and decorated with paper-chains and popcorn.  It was great!!

But the non-American man in my life has always posed these questions to me - why do you Americans do what you do at holidays?  He just wanted to know why we do what we do?  My answer...I don't know...we just do!  :)   So early on in our marriage, I had to research a bit and explain why pumpkins have faces and why our floor every December is covered in dry needles from a big tree in the corner.

There's a lot out there if you Google, but one earlier version says that Martin Luther in the 1500's was walking in a forest one cold Christmas eve and was struck by the beauty of a group of evergreens dusted with snow shimmering in the moonlight.  He went home and brought a small fir tree inside and decorated it with candles to signify the light of Christ and His birth.  We attribute our decorating of a tree to Luther.

Earlier in history the Egyptians were part of a long line of cultures that worshipped evergreens.  When the winter solstice arrived, they brought green date palm leaves into their homes to symbolize life's triumph over death.  Many peoples of history - the Romans, Druids of Great Britain, Germans and Scandinavians, just to name a few, brought greenery into their dwellings to signify life, ward off evil spirits (oh great!) and show their hope of the forthcoming springtime.

The idea of the Christmas tree was most likely brought to America by the Hessian troops during the American Revolution or with German immigrants to Pennsylvania.  The custom spread slowly, however, and it wasn't until 1851 when a farmer brought a load of trees to New York City and sold them.  By 1900, one in five American families had a tree and nearly 20 years later the custom had caught on nationwide.  Christmas tree farming sprung up during the depression as nurserymen couldn't sell their evergreens for landscaping, so they began to cut them down for Christmas trees.

A quick note...artificial trees began being produced as early as the 19th century in Germany and in 1930 a U.S. based company began producing artificial trees using brushes...they used the same machinery to make toilet brushes (lovely!) and then dyed them green.  Today trees are made from a variety of material (the aluminum tree became popular in the U.S. and but in 1965 the year Charlie Brown's Christmas aired for the first time, the negative portrayal of the aluminum tree caused sales to decline in the years to follow...that's a tidbit you probably didn't know).

The tradition of a tree in living rooms around the world has held fast.  We have years of fun memories and family times that fill our hearts with good cheer.  It's the little things that accompany this time of year that I do love so much.  And now you and I know "why we do what we do" :)

I do have a the past 8 or so years, we have enjoyed our very own artificial tree...the year all the kids were "busy" and hubby and I trudged out on our own to a tree farm, cut the evergreen without all the pomp and ceremony that came with little ones...we decided something had to change.  That was the same year, due to overwatering (fear of fire and our need to see this baby live as long as possible :) and the stump of the tree being waterlogged...that our beautifully elaborately decorated piece of art fell over TWICE in the space of a week.  My daughter will only help me twice to decorate or fix a tree...after that, she told me I was on my own!  We put a rope around our "tradition" and nailed it to the wall!    

I adore Christmas trees....I love decorating....and I especially appreciate the smell.... in a matter of minutes, I assemble the tree, straighten branches and viola!  I have my tree! I have Bing Crosby crooning in the background "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas", my hot cuppa and a balsam candle burning.  I have it all!!  And I am happy!  I just await my lovely daughter to help me finish the job!  (The other day a friend of hers came over and said how Christmassy it smelled in my home....yes!  I achieved my purpose...even with an artificial tree!)

However you enjoy your tree and all the traditions of this season, do just that...ENJOY and don't miss the special moments that accompany these December days.  A favorite for me is in the evening to sit by the tree, with only the Christmas lights aglow and enjoy the peace of the night.  I hope your days and nights are filled with similar delights and memories!


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