I was looking at a Christmas tree in a hardware store the other day and trying to decide if the tree was intended to be a pine or a spruce.
In our house, we have a number of trees which live with us year round. And since our house is not very big, my husband absolutely, animatedly refuses to entertain the idea of a real Christmas tree.
“We won’t even be home,” he justifies his scroogeness with cold logic.
So I settle with decorating the two figs, the Norfolk pine, the palm and the jade plant. But none of them even come close to the Christmas trees of my childhood.
The Saturday before Christmas, crammed in the wood-panelled station wagon, me wedged between my brothers in the back seat, my family took the long drive north to the Christmas tree farm.
As a city kid, the Christmas tree farm was a magical place. There the snow sparkled, not the grey slush found on the city sidewalks. With offerings of sunflower seeds on our mittens, weightless chickadees landed to fill their tiny bellies. The hot chocolate was warm and sweet.
Back home, the trees from the farm were never perfect. As their branches thawed out, they revealed spiny trunks and too few branches.
They never quite fit the Christmas tree stand and tended lean as if pushed by a constant wind.
My mother hoarded Christmas decorations.
Not the perfectly co-ordinated gold and red store bought decorations.
I cannot remember a single plastic cranberry, Styrofoam reindeer or bright tinsel boa.
Our decorations were crinkled faded paper chains brought home ceremoniously from Mrs Bridge’s Grade 1 class.
As all four of my mother’s children were in Mrs. Bridge’s class, there were four paper chains. Blobs of homemade play dough, vaguely resembling Santa Claus and snowmen, drooped from its branches and an angel with tinfoil wings glued to a toilet paper roll body perched on the top of the tree.
Now this is supposed to be about the tradition of the Christmas tree, from a herbal point of view. So let’s cut to the chase, as everyone is busy this time of year.
The tradition of the Christmas tree comes from the area now called Germany.
Every year, at solstice, Christmas time, the people bundled up and ventured into the forest, in search for the perfect tree.
Once found, they chopped the tree down (probably without any hot chocolate) and dragged it home through knee deep snow. It was brought it into their homes and covered with lit candles. In considering this tradition, I realized it was quite strange.
First, if the weather was anything like it is today, the last thing anyone wants to do is go looking for a tree to drag through the snow.
Second, live trees are messy. Their needles dry out and drop indiscriminately.
Third, decorating a tree with candles? That is dangerous.
In the middle of winter, it is simply insane. Where would these good folks go if their homes went up in flames?
So what were they doing? Why would they put up with the cold, mess and danger of a Christmas tree?
The strongest, most wonderful memory I have of the Christmas trees of my childhood is the scent.
The fresh fragrance of pine filled the whole house and planted a forest of squirrels, rabbits, chickadees, sparkling snow and starlight in my mind.
I am sure it was the scent of pine that the good folks so long ago were after when they cut down the first Christmas tree.
The scent of the pine tree is created by volatile oils found in its needles and twigs.
These oils are anti-septic. When heated, they are released into the air and mingle with any air borne germs. Then the aromatic oils enter the cells of both viruses and bacteria and inhibit their ability to replicate.
Back in the days of the early Christmas trees, the heat from the candles on the pine’s branches dispersed the fresh scent of pine throughout the humble forest dweller’s home vanishing any germ.
The Christmas tree was the mid-winter disinfectant.
Have a very merry Christmas.
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.