Documents: Regional Gardens (Canada) - Prairie:

Now, a few points about Christmas Trees
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale

email: art@artdrysdale.com

Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at http://www.artdrysdale.com


December 11, 2016



Above, Two shots of the Australian Christmas Tree (Nuytsia floribunda) is a par-asytic tree of the Mistletoe family (Loranthaceae) Photo by W.H. Hodge; Below, a New Zealand Christmas Tree (Metrosediros), also known as Pohutukawa natively; and my partner, Yves, Toronto tree in 1999.
Author photos.







 


 



 

Nothing in connection with Christmas is more popular than the Christmas tree. Its origin is obscure, "lost in the mazes of antiquity." Some folklorists think it had to do with the worship or invocation of the "spirit of vegetation," and relate it to other ceremonial trees, such as the May Pole, or St. John's tree around which the people danced at the Summer solstice. Some associate it with a story of St. Boniface (Winfrid of Crediton, an English missionary in Germany in the eighth century), who is said to have cut down on a Christmas Eve, a sacred oak, beneath which human sacrifices had been offered; as it fell a young fir tree seemed to appear miraculously beyond it; and this, unstained with blood, the saint proposed as a sign or emblem of the new faith.

Others connect the Christmas tree with an old legend about a marvellous transformation of nature at the birth of our Lord, when the rivers flowed with wine, and the trees blossomed in the midst of ice and snow. With this legend may be associated a custom in Austria, where boughs of cherry, pear or hawthorn are gathered early in December, and put in water or wet sand indoors, that they may blossom at Christmas. Akin to this may be what we read of in London in the fifteenth century, when holly, ivy, and bay were made into a standard form or tree. Half a century later "a tree of gold" appeared in a Christmas pageant presented before King Henry VIII.

The Christmas tree is first met with in Germany about the time of Luther. Popular tradition, not corroborated by evidence, ascribes its introduction to the great reformer himself. The earliest definite mention of it as an established custom is in an anonymous manuscript dated 1605. It does not seem to have been generally common till far into the 18th century: it was more popular in Protestant than in Roman Catholic communities; and until the early 1900s it scarcely existed in some rural parts of Bavaria.

Originally a purely domestic institution, it gradually found its way into churches; and at Munich it even invaded the cemetery, where on Christmas Eve the graves were decked with holly and mistletoe, and sometimes a little Christmas tree with its gleaming lights. Leisurely, by the middle of the 19th century, the Christmas tree had become almost universal throughout Germany. It was set up in almost every house, rich and poor, even where there were only elderly people. From thence it spread throughout the greater part of Christendom.

The first one in England was set up at Penshanger in 1829, by a German lady, Princess Lieven. The tree was only naturalized in England after one was set up at Windsor Castle by Prince Albert in 1841. In the same year it is said to have been introduced into Paris; and fifty years later, between 30,000 and 35,000 trees were sold in that city in one season.

The Christmas tree set up in Windsor Castle by Prince Albert in 1841 began a rapid popularization. Some countries were slower than others to pick-up on it; for example, it seems doubtful if it was common in Bohemia or in Sweden much before 1860; previously in Sweden it was customary to set up a bare pole outside the house. Since then the Christmas tree has found a welcome all across Europe, Canada and America; largely through German influence, direct or indirect.

It is not difficult to conceive that the Christmas tree may have been originally an embodiment of the Spirit of Vegetation, and may have been Christianized by association with the beautiful old legend of the Tree of Life. When Adam was dying, says the story, he sent Seth to the Garden of Eden to beg for the Oil of Mercy. This he could not obtain; but the guardian cherub gave him in-stead a sprig or seed from the Tree of Life, which he was commanded to plant upon his father's grave. He did so, and there-from grew a tree which in after ages afforded the wonder-working rod of Moses.

That the Christmas tree was adorned with lights in, or soon after Luther's time, is certain; how soon it became the vehicle of gifts is more doubtful. In Denmark, where the tree became as popular, there was a pleasant custom that on returning from Church on Christmas Eve the whole family join hands and march around the tree singing carols. 

   

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