What better green wonder to celebrate as our Plant of the Month for December, than the traditional evergreen Christmas tree? A tree that transcends time for its popularity, and acts as a universal signifier of the festive season year upon year.
Long before the advent of Christianity, evergreen plants and trees held a special meaning for people during the winter months. Just as we deck our homes with festive trees and wreaths, people hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows in ancient times of the belief that they warded away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.
Meanwhile, in the Northern hemisphere, winter solstice falls on December 21. Back then people believed that the sun was a god, and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. To celebrate solstice they dressed their homes with evergreen boughs as a reminder that the green plants would grow again when the sun god had been restored back to health.
The modern Christmas tree
When it comes to the tradition of the Christmas tree we know and love today, it’s believed we can thank Germany, where devout Christians are said to have brought decorated trees into their homes in the 16th Century. Some built Christmas pyramids out of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if pine was scarce and it’s noted in history that Martin Luther (the 16th century German preacher) first added lit candles to a tree.
Christmas trees were not so widely accepted in the U.S. back then. In fact, the first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols by most Americans, and were not accepted.
In 1846, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. The Christmas tree had arrived. While trees were traditionally decorated with nuts, paper flowers and candles back then – the current incarnation is of course lit from top to bottom with glittering lights and a star, or angel, positioned pride of place on top.
How to pick a tree:
Sure, all Christmas trees are green with needles, but there are in fact many types of Christmas tree from Norway Spruce and Blue Spruce, to Fraser and Douglas Firs.
Christmas trees are graded according to shape and maturity – so always opt for ‘super’ or ‘premium’ grade to ensure your tree looks full and fresh for the festive period and when it comes to the size, it’s a matter of preference and space. Typically they range from 2ft - 30ft – so unless you’re shopping for Buckingham Palace, we’d recommend choosing a tree between 3ft and 7ft. 3 -4ft if you’re planning to position yours on a surface, 5-7ft if you’ve got a big open corner, or hall, to fill. Top tip: don’t forget to factor in the stand.
How to care for it:
To keep your tree in tip top condition, you need to follow a few simple rules. Cut 1-2cm off the base of your tree before popping it into a suitably sized, water-retaining stand. Position your tree away from heat sources, for example direct sunlight, radiators and open fires. Keep the water in the stand topped up – trees get thirsty and can drink up to a litre a day!