You put a lot of effort into finding and decorating your Christmas tree, didn’t you? Enjoy it a while longer. Our recent shopping columns may have misled you to believe that “the 12 days of Christmas” are the 12 days leading up to Christmas but, in fact “Christmastide” begins on Christmas Day.
The Christmas tree in my house literally “fell off the back of a truck.” The truck was in front of my husband while he was driving on the BQE. He brought home one of the ugliest fake trees I have ever see. It doesn’t even try to look beautiful but instead, looks like bottle brushes stuck on a stick. We adopted it and it suits us. It is short but in its spot on the breakfront when it is “dolled up,” it looks very proud. For many years we have made very little houses at Christmas and now have a village under the tree along with some toys collected over the years that remind us of childhoods long past. Once this scene is in place, I give up my “bah humbug-ness” and agree to full involvement in the season.
The Christmas tree of my childhood was an unsheared Douglas fir; like a large Charlie Brown tree. Because the branches are very open, many ornaments can dangle between them and the tinsel had plenty of space to hang unobstructed. We learned to put the heaviest ornaments on the bottom so the branches wouldn’t sag. Its fragrance filled the house. My mother loved Christmas and that tree went up early in December. It seems that all Christmas trees are now sheared, giving them a very dense and regular shape. I wonder if unsheared Douglas firs are even available. I probably would have a difficult time decorating one. Do the ornaments just hang on the outside of the tree?
Regardless of the variety of tree you bought, the care is the same. Keep it watered and away from heat sources. The tree salesman should have freshened the end of the trunk by cutting it. You may need to cut it again.
Put the fresh cut in in the holder as soon as possible. Trees can drink about one quart of water per day so use a stand with good capacity. Additives to the water are not recommended. Trees need water only and be sure to keep the supply constant. With no water, the end of the trunk can become sealed with sap in a few hours, causing the tree to dry up and then the needles begin to fall.
If you have inquisitive cats who might be unable to avoid a trip into the interior of the tree when overcome with play, you may need to attach the top to the ceiling. If you have an unbalanced tree or just cannot get it to stand upright in place, you can use my father’s technique. He attached it to the wall!
The history of evergreens in various forms can be traced at least to the Romans who used them during the winter solstice of Saturnalia, celebrating the god of agriculture. Druids used holly and mistletoe at winter solstice as symbols of eternal life and at the door for protection from evil spirits. In the middle ages, Germans and Scandinavians used them hoping for spring. Puritans in this country did not celebrate Christmas at all but Hessians, hired as mercenaries by the British during the Revolutionary War, brought Christmas trees with them. Popular response to newspaper illustrations of Queen Victoria and family with their Christmas tree began the popularity of Christmas trees that continues today.
There are examples of evergreen trees used by many more cultures as signs of life and hope for the return of the growing season. Though we have lost this aspect of the custom today, its practice connects us to extensive human history.
Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.