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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: Branches in Your House | 11-17-2016
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| Thursday, Nov 17, 2016

evelynevandersande_mugThe Holiday Craft Fair is coming to Placerita Canyon Nature Center on Saturday, December 3 and 4, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. each day.

At this time of year, there are many Holiday Boutiques throughout this valley but do not let your eyes glide past this news, because this one is totally different. This is the only place in this area where you can create and decorate your own holiday wreaths, centerpieces and ornaments using a large assortment of fresh-cut greenery, pine cones and other natural treasures.

For weeks before the Fair, the docents gather all kinds of berries, pods, nuts and many kinds of different greenery from bushes and trees so that you have a great variety of colors and textures to use. I could go on about the wonderful smell that develops in the room; you feel like you are in a forest. Everybody works at making their own decorations.

Suggestions, help, and compliments fly around the room. There’s great spirit and camaraderie, and the results always look professional. While the parents are working with branches, the children are being entertained doing all kind of neat kid-friendly projects, involving glue, sparkles, and cotton wool to their great pleasure and feeling of accomplishment. It has become a special family tradition for many and it is so wonderful to see parents coming back with their children, sharing fun memories that they had of coming to Placerita as children themselves.

It is the only fundraiser of the year for Placerita, and I hope you will be able to come check it out because it is a hidden treasure, not only for the beautiful decorations that you can make with natural elements, but because of the special friendly atmosphere at Placerita. It is a unique and delightful way to start the Holiday season.

I was born in France and I have lived in different countries, so some of the Holiday decorations are somewhat of a puzzle for me. Holiday wreaths would never be seen in France, because wreaths of flowers are only used on graves and people would shudder to have a reminder of a funeral inside the home. How are those traditions started? Why those differences? I decided to do some research to figure out how those traditions began, and it took me on a trip through ancient times, dating back to the prophet Jeremiah who was not very pleased with the pagan custom of decorating houses with branches in the middle of the winter. That was a tradition to celebrate the winter solstice. In Egypt, not having evergreen branches, houses were decorated with palm branches because this is what was readily available and it was a symbol of resurrection. A little while later on, Romans decorate their houses with crowns of foliage. During the Roman celebration of the Saturnal, people decorated their house with evergreen branches. They also decorated living trees with little bits of metal (what is the start of tinsel?) and replicas of Bacchus.

I must say this is the first indication I found in my research of what might in the future become the idea of the Christmas tree!

During the rest of the year, Romans hung wreaths on their doors as sign of victory and their status. Rich women would wear crowns of greenery and flowers for special occasions, and Roman emperors would wear laurel wreaths on their heads. Wreaths were also given to the winners of the original Olympic Games. The word “wreath” comes from the old English word “writhen” with means to writhe or twist, something you need to do with branches when you make a wreath. Were they the ones to bring the wreath traditions to Anglo Saxon countries? As with so many ancient traditions, it is almost impossible to pin-point exactly where it started, as the wreath was also a symbol used by the druids and the Celts in many pagan celebrations.

The centuries after birth of Christ, the Romans were celebrating Saturnalia and the Christians chose the same date for Christmas. They decorated their houses with holly to avoid persecution.

Those pageants in ancient cultures had one common purpose; In the Northern hemisphere, they were recognizing the winter solstice which is the time of the year that has the shortest daylight hours and the longest night which happens sometime between December 20 and 21st. It was a time filled with anxiety, as many feared the sun would disappear forever. Bringing branches into the house or into the temple was one way to cling to life, to greenery, to the hope that spring would come again. Those festivals would celebrate the return of the Sun God when light would come back again.

Pagan symbols of keeping evergreens to ward away evil spirits merged with Christian celebrations over the years.

In Scandinavia, the tradition was to bring in a Yule log, light it, and drink mead beside it whilst watching the flames disappearing before the winter. This tradition spread to Great Britain and was actively respected in homes until the 1950’s. Nowadays, the Yule log burning is done in great country hotels and pub fireplaces where a round of drinks can easily be shared. This tradition has a special twist in France and Italy, where the Christmas dinner’s traditional dessert is shaped and decorated as a log, made of chocolate or coffee-flavored cake.

Pagans in the past did not cut a whole tree to bring inside their home, which would have been too destructive of nature that they respected. However, branches would be brought in.
In Northern Europe, the Germanic people would tie fruits and attach candles to those branches to honor their god Woden. I am certain it is hard to connect to those times, however it might be interesting to know you use the memory of this god weekly because the word Wednesday comes from Wodensday, the day of the god Woden!

The first documented use of a tree at a Christmas celebration comes from Estonia and Latvia in 1441, and this celebration was set up by the Brotherhood of Blackhead which was an association of local unmarried merchants. Opposition to Christmas trees by many churches was intense and the tradition did not catch on before the middle of the 19th century.
The tradition to hang stockings was started for Saint Nicholas who, according to the legend, left gifts of gold coins to pay for the dowries of 3 poor girls.

In some countries, people leave their shoes out on Christmas night to find gifts left by Santa on Christmas morning. Some of those gifts can also be left by Baby Jesus according to the tradition.

It seems that the first drawing of Santa Claus was made by Thomas Nast, a German immigrant who made an illustration for the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” in 1862. He also came up with the idea of Santa on his sleigh, the North Pole workshop, and Santa opening his mail. He certainly had a profound influence on children’s expectations of Christmas!

In the US, Christmas cards were expensive until 1874 because they were imported from Europe. Louis Pang, a lithographer in Boston, saw a business opportunity and printed cards with a painting reproduction on one side, and a little holiday message on the other. Ten years later, the idea had taken off and he was producing 5 million cards each year.
There are so many fun traditions at this time of the year, finding the origin can be interesting. But really, what is most important is that you find the time to enjoy them and that it makes your life full of happy and lasting memories.

I wish you all the best of holidays. I hope you can share those special times with family and friends and that it brings you peace, love and wonderful moments of joy. Come visit the craft fair at the Nature Center and I sincerely hope you will find some of the true happiness that working with nature’s bounty can bring you. Mark your calendars for December 3rd and 4th! Have a merry Christmas, Ramadan, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa or even a great winter solstice.

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