Today, on this cold and blustery upper-Michigan Monday, my intrepid mama and I crunched out into the far reaches of the back woods and cut down a wee Christmas tree. Well, the little guy is more of a sapling than a tree-tree, more of a Charlie Brown than a General Sherman, but still. This was my first tree-cutting excursion in many years, and, being the soft-hearted ninny that I am, I was predictably conflicted. I mean, no question, no question, real trees are far more magical, special, and deliciously-scented than their Made in China alternatives… but it does feel like a huge luxury/waste to cut one down just to tart it up with glitter and bling for a few weeks before literally kicking it to the curb. And yet our little, ultra-local tree was one of many in a thick patch of forest regrowth that probably would have been out-competed eventually. Anyway… We gave thanks to its brief but wild life before crouching down in the cold, and working a small saw clasped in a mittened-hand.
As we walked back to the house carrying the tree and a bouquet of red willows, I started thinking about the tannenbaum tradition. And so, after a little interwebbing, I bring you some random yule-tree factoids:
– The first known Christmas tree was decorated in 15th-century Livonia (now Latvia and Estonia) by the dubiously-named Brotherhood of Blackheads, who sound like your typical bachelor-merchant group of sketchy dudes executing bizarre night-rituals while, let’s face it, likely wearing funny hats. But to be fair, the tree-honoring tradition was probably co-opted by the Christians (like so many holidays) from some tree-hugging, dirt-worshiping pagans doing their freaky Solstice dance, while yes, wearing funny headgear.
– The German word for Christmas tree is not in fact, Tannenbaum. Apparently that describes just your average fir tree doing its thang. No, the Germans call their Christmas trees “Weihnachtsbaums,” which to me sounds a bit like a sticky nocturnal digestive situation.
– Artificial trees first arrived on the scene in the 19th century. They were made of the most obvious evergreen-needle substitute around: goose feathers dyed green.
Don’t get me started on the jazzy firewood brought to Britain by farmhands looking for free beer from sexy farm wives, aka the Yule Log.