There has been a lot of talk about the garden being ‘a part of the house’ or ‘another room’; at this time of year the roles are reversed as we welcome greenery into our homes as part of our festive celebrations.
There are Christmas trees of pine or fir, Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe. Often other evergreens are added: laurels with their smooth glossy leaves, or Rosemary added to Christmas garlands for scent. Christmas trees are the most obvious festive evergreen that we take into our homes. But do you stop to ask yourself why?
Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, is celebrated as starting the tradition of Christmas trees (fir trees) in Britain in the mid nineteenth century; a tradition brought over from his native Germany. However, it seems that the custom of decorated fir trees in Germany was begun in the seventh century or thereabouts by the English monk Boniface (later Saint Boniface). Legend has it that during the Winter Solstice, he came upon some pagans who were about to sacrifice a child at an Oak tree. That magnificent tree so beloved of the Druids was chopped down in one fell swoop of his fist by Boniface. (Sounds a bit like our Nathan, who’s well known for lifting tree stumps with his little finger). And lo, at the roots was growing a small fir tree, so Boniface had the fir tree become the symbol for Christmas.
Another suggestion is that the fir tree became the acceptable evergreen for Christmas decorations thanks to Martin Luther (founder of the protestant faith in Germany) in
the late fifteenth century. He was walking through the forest at Christmas time and was amazed by the beauty of the stars shining through the evergreen
branches of the fir trees. It reminded him of the Star of Bethlehem and so he cut down a tree, took it home and decorated it with candles so his family could share the delightful sight.
Nathan has added a further Christmas tree legend to this blog. The first Christmas tree was very probably put up and decorated in Latvia or Estonia in 1510 by the gild known as the Brotherhood of Blackheads or Schwarzhäupterhaus. Documentation also suggests that it was taken out into the market square and burnt as part of the celebrations; which brings us back to the pagan rather than Christian winter festivals where fires are lit to encourage the sun to return.
Holly and ivy appear in many Christmas carols and songs and come a close second to the Christmas tree in popularity when it comes to decorating the home.
Holly (Ilex Europea), or “ouch” as it is known at Plews (we often have to prune Holly; and the leaves stay sharp even when dry) is a festive favourite with its shiny spiky leaves and bright red berries. A small sprig tops off a Christmas pudding, the berries mirroring the red of the cherries in the pudding itself. A welcome addition to garlands, Holly is probably best used where you won’t accidentally walk into it…
Ivy (Hedera helix) is another berry-laden evergreen; its rich black fruits are a delicacy for your garden birds but if you bring them indoors put them out of reach of any inquisitive toddlers, as they are toxic and can cause stomach upsets.
Both Holly and Ivy developed their spiky and poisonous leaves as a defensive measure, to prevent animals from eating them. Which is why, if you were to cut branches from higher up a holly tree, you would see that the leaves have serrated but not prickly edges. As for the birds eating the berries, they’re not poisoned, because their digestive systems allow them to pass the seed contained within the fleshy, outer part of the berry all the way through and out again.
As this is the last Plews blog of 2012, we’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year from all of us.
And if you have Christmas money to spend, but don’t fancy hitting the sales in the shops, we’d like to remind you about our Special Offers
Marie, Nathan and the rest of the Team