Gathering Dusk and A Christmas Tree

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Light fades slowly from the winter sky, blushing, as the sun eases below the horizon.

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Late afternoon found us at Colonial Williamsburg on Christmas day.  I wanted to photograph the huge Christmas tree, ablaze with lights, that we had found the evening before.

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We were out on Christmas Eve enjoying the lights in our part of town, when we spotted a blazing tree, covered in white lights, visible from Francis Street.

And I vowed to return, camera in hand, to photograph it in all its brilliance at dusk.

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And so I lingered nearby, watching colors shift in the evening sky as lights popped on against the gathering dusk.  But the Christmas tree remained unlit.

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My partner parked and eventually joined me.  And we waited together as the minutes crept past.

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We watched a silent flock of geese glide overhead.

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Clouds glowed bright, illuminated by a sun no longer visible from where we stood, moving ever further beyond the horizon.

But the Christmas tree remained dark, melting into the shadows of the coming night.

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We began walking towards our car, shivering now in the evening chill.  Slowly, hoping for a flash of sudden brightness to draw us back, we covered the blocks of the old town still filled with visitors and costumed staff.

But the only lights greeting us flickered in windows and on lamp posts.

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And though a little disappointed to have missed the photo I hoped to take, we were glad to be a part of the community in this place and on this special night.

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It was the following evening when we found the tree lit again in all its glowing glory.  We had been away all day, and drove to the tree on our way home.  It was already long past dusk when we arrived, but the Christmas tree was lit, and I hopped out while my partner circled the block.

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One feels the weight of years and lives here most at night.  Shades of those long gone from daylight still linger in the shadows near these historic places.

The elder trees, still growing, hold memories, too; as they stretch their protective branches over the land.

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But the blazing Christmas tree drew me ever closer, and I set off alone across the field.   Others were gathering around it too, basking in the warmth and comfort of its lights.

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In this season we celebrate the power of the light.  We reaffirm our deep belief in the powers of goodness and love to push back against the gathering and ever-present darkness of our  world.

We know there is an ever shifting balance between darkness and light; greed and generosity; kindness and anger;  love and ambivalence.

And all of these forces live and shift within each one of us; none of us is beyond their power.

But it is always ours to choose; to seek the light, even when we must walk through the darkness to find it.   And as we journey ever closer to the light, we find good company sharing the walk with us; so that we are never left alone in the darkness.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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“It is neither wealth nor splendor,

but tranquility and occupation which give happiness.”
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Thomas Jefferson

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Christmas Tree Topiaries

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This year I’ve been inspired to make tabletop topiary Christmas trees.

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A few friends and I are hosting a Christmas luncheon next week.  I wanted to make a small Christmas tree for each dining table, and also some for the buffet tables.

It seemed like a fairly easy project as I dreamed it up…

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After several days of research, studying photos online and visiting Sharon’s beautiful Crafts ‘n Coffee blog a few dozen times; I was ready to begin assembling the materials.

After looking at many different topiary trees, constructed from various materials, I finally had a few basic ideas for tree designs.

People can be incredibly creative!   There are so many ways people have designed topiary Christmas trees from simple Styrofoam cones!

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Choosing ribbon for the first set of topiaries helped establish the color scheme: soft greens and a golden cream.  I found a coordinating sueded fabric to use with the shell trees.

All four of these designs are enormously simple to make.  Tracking down the materials was the most challenging part of the project.

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All begin with a Styrofoam tree form and a square wooden base purchased at the crafts store.  The ribbon trees were made entirely by attaching ribbon to the form with straight pins, then embellishing the trees with glass beads and pearl topped straight pins.  The tiny birds are actually metal beads.

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The shell trees were assembled on a fabric covered Styrofoam base.  The shells were hot glued into place, then the trees finished with shells and freshwater pearls, attached with pearl headed pins.

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Many shells can be found pre-drilled and strung, wherever strings of beads are sold.  Most shells come rather dull when found on the beach or purchased in bulk. 

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I polished these with a cotton swab dipped in pure mineral oil to bring out the colors of the shells.

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Finally, the wooden trees were the most interesting to assemble.

There are five different sizes and cuts of wooden sticks, found at several different craft stores, in addition to bamboo skewers from the kitchen.  I’ve added sheet moss to the undersides of the Styrofoam cones and to the wooden base for these trees.

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A ‘trunk’ is made by gluing broken sticks into the base of the cone in a roughly round pattern; about 1.5″ in diameter.  Glued to the styrofoam and to the wooden base, this makes a fairly sturdy foundation for building the trees, which are quite heavy.

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A friend made the miniature gnomes and rabbit for me a while ago.  They originally lived in a ‘fairy garden’ amid some shade loving plants.  Now they will live under these trees.  The larger gnome, and the mushrooms, came from the craft store.

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Interestingly, each tree came out differently. The wooden sticks are glued both to the Styrofoam, and to each other.  Larger sticks can be broken, and both ends used.  so long as the rough edges are covered by another stick, construction continues.  The bamboo skewers help cover gaps and holes.

The largest tree was constructed over two days.  I ran out of wooden sticks and had to finish after a shopping trip the following day.  I can see a difference in style from each session working with the trees.

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I hope these little trees inspire you to try something new this holiday season.

The shell trees are on our mantle at the moment; the other trees on the buffet in the dining room.  Since we start late with decorating here, these are bringing a little holiday joy to our home as they await their day at the luncheon.

Since we don’t truly need nine topiaries, we’ll find new homes for most of these after the luncheon next week.

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I enjoyed working on these topiaries and learning some new techniques.  And, I”m still inspired by the fascinating photos of others’ trees discovered in my search.

There are free form driftwood trees, trees made with Cinnamon sticks, button trees, scrap fabric trees and trees covered in shiny glass balls…

Please do visit Sharon if you enjoy making things with your hands.  She has some wonderful designs, and offers clear and easy to follow instructions for her projects.

I appreciate the inspiration and guidance she offered as I was exploring ideas for this project.

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It always surprises me how much cheer a little Christmas decoration can bring as we descend into winter and the short dark days of December.

Whatever we can do to brighten the world for ourselves and for others is a good thing, I believe.

And I hope these little trees end up making the season a bit brighter for you and for all who see them.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

A Forest Garden 2016 calendar is available now.

What Sits At the Top of Your Christmas Tree?

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Mark Roberts "Golden Age" fairy sits at the top of our Christmas tree.

Mark Roberts “Golden Age” fairy sits at the top of our Christmas tree.

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What sits on top of your Christmas tree? 

Hugh Roberts, of East Sussex UK,  is politely curious.

In fact, everyone who responds to his query will help add another pound sterling to the charitable contribution he plans to make in January.  His goal is L250. That is a lot of Christmas beauty!

Blogging friend Sue posted her tree topper earlier today and alerted me to Hugh’s challenge.  What lovely Christmas postings you’ll find from Sue!

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Mark Robert's Sugar Plum Fairy

Mark Robert’s Plum Pudding  Fairy

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When we moved to this home (and garden) a few years ago, a Christmas tree left behind by the previous owner was waiting for us in a huge box in the garage.  It was a pre-lit tree, with white lights, and we decided to make it our “den” tree that first year.

There was very little Christmas joy as I tried, in vain, to get all of the lights working.  I finally gave up and just put a string of colored lights on top and used this as our “overflow” tree for ornaments not displayed in the living room.  This tree held lots of childhood memories and fun ornaments given over the years by students and extended family.

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Mark Robert's "Mistletoe and Holly" fairy

Mark Robert’s “Mistletoe and Holly” fairy

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That January, we decided to just leave this tree assembled, covered in plastic dust covers, in the basement.  The ornaments were packed, but we just left the lights in place.  We’ve used the tree another time or two, but last year was so hectic that it never saw the lights of Christmas.

Earlier this month my partner began the discussion about discarding this old tree.  I think he planned to use its component parts in the deer barriers down in our ravine.  But I kept putting him off… and finally, took the trouble to go and lift the dust covers.  Not bad….

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I had been half-heartedly  shopping for a “new” artificial tree for the den.  I love the lights in the area where we sit and cook, and really wanted to bring some of those old ornaments out again.  But nothing I had seen online or in stores seemed worth the asking prices.  (Yes, I know, after Christmas sales…)

And so in a moment of sheer stubborness I wrestled this old tree up from the basement and plunked it down beside my chair.

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A new "Santa" ornament handmade from a cypress knob by a local artist.

A new “Santa” ornament handmade from a cypress knob by a local artist.

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There wasn’t much enthusiasm in the house, I must admit.  But when I plugged in the string of lights, it did look festive.

We began “fluffing” the tree.  The tree stood there the rest of the day with just the lights burning.  I was off to my parents’ home for the day, and needed to get on the road.  I planned to decorate it the following day.

Well, my partner continued to fluff it and bend it back into acceptable shape.  Its cheery glow greeted me when I returned home that evening.

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I was at peace with the decision to save the tree.  That is, until the following morning when I plugged it in on the way to the coffee pot.

The lights lasted maybe two minutes, and then nothing.  I tried and retried the plug, the fuses, the cord… Nothing would bring those old lights back to life.  They were more than 10 years old, but I still hated to give up too easily.

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My partner is no fan of non-functioning Christmas lights.  He helped out by disentangling them from the tree.

I plugged them into another outlet and went through the string bulb by bulb.  And again, and again.  No amount of jiggling or replacement bulbs brought them back to life.

By this time he was on his way to Walgreens to find us some new lights.

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But there was still the problem of the factory lights, burned out and hard wired onto the tree.  Most of the bulbs were blackened from their little explosions years ago.  They were clumsily attached, and just marred the tree in every way you might name.

And so faithful partner went to work with wire snips, pliers, and brute force.  He liberated the tree.

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Handmade "Santa" purchased from the same local artist last year.

Handmade “Santa” purchased from the same local artist last year.

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Hours later, we were finally ready to place the new strings of white lights.  What light!  What brightness! 

This was no longer a cast-off.  It was transformed into a thing of beauty.  And I decorated it accordingly.

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Our Mark Roberts Christmas fairies, usually enchanting the mantlepiece, took places of honor on the tree instead.  We decided to dedicate this tree to the magic of Christmas.

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It holds many of our Santa Claus ornaments, including  one crafted from a cypress knob by a local artist, which we purchased from her earlier in the month.

We created this tree to celebrate the love, generosity, kindness, and miracle-making magic the Christmas season always brings.

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A gift on my first Christmas.

A gift on my first Christmas.

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It is decorated with gifts I have  received from my very first Christmas until this one.  It celebrates the power of belief, the power of persistence, and the power of love. 

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Another gift from one of my childhood Christmas celebrations.

Another gift from one of my childhood Christmas celebrations.

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So will you join me in answering Hugh’s challenge?  If you blog, just make a post about your own Christmas tree, and link back to Hugh.  You’ll find instructions on his page.  If you don’t have your own blog, he explains how you can join in, too.

It doesn’t cost a penny to participate… only a loving heart full of joy and goodwill!

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Merry Christmas!

Woodland Gnome 2014

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Is It Christmas Without A Tree?

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We are chin deep in preparations for Christmas today.

The morning was devoted to writing cards and wrapping gifts. We have brought our cut tree inside, and the last hour was devoted to getting last year’s lights working. We will enjoy unpacking the ornaments and hanging them this evening.

In the meantime, you might enjoy a little post I wrote this time last year about Christmas trees. Like so much of the holiday traditions, it is hard to imagine a time when families didn’t decorate a Christmas tree each December. But Christmas trees are a fairly modern innovation in the Yuletide celebrations.

And I’m so glad Christmas trees gained acceptance in the United States, because I’ve always loved having a tree full of lights and color at Christmas! It took only a few minutes for the fresh, crisp aroma of our tree to fill the house.

This is the wonderful smell of Christmas we enjoy so much.

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Forest Garden

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My dad used to always know someone with some property in the country where we could cut a tree for Christmas.  It was a much anticipated family outing in the week before Christmas.  He brought his old hand saw and some rope.  We would walk together around the fields, considering one cedar tree and then another, until we found the perfect Christmas tree for the year.

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Cedar trees growing along the bank of College Creek in Williamsburg.Cedar trees growing along the bank of College Creek in Williamsburg.

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It needed to be taller than Dad, but not too tall.  We looked for one that was full and fat and without obvious holes or defects.  Once we had all agreed on the best tree, Dad cut it, and we helped carry it to the family car, where it was carefully tied on top.  Once home, Dad brought it into the living room and set it…

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Is It Christmas Without A Tree?

Our community Christmas tree

Our community Christmas tree

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My dad used to always know someone with some property in the country where we could cut a tree for Christmas.  It was a much anticipated family outing in the week before Christmas.  He brought his old hand saw and some rope.  We would walk together around the fields, considering one cedar tree and then another, until we found the perfect Christmas tree for the year.

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Cedar trees growing along the bank of College Creek in Williamsburg.

Cedar trees growing along the bank of College Creek in Williamsburg.

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It needed to be taller than Dad, but not too tall.  We looked for one that was full and fat and without obvious holes or defects.  Once we had all agreed on the best tree, Dad cut it, and we helped carry it to the family car, where it was carefully tied on top.  Once home, Dad brought it into the living room and set it into the tree stand with fresh water.

We never paid for a Christmas tree.  It was all transacted with a friendly conversation and handshake.  And we were always thrilled to have it.  The house finally “smelled like Christmas” after we brought home the tree.  Cedars are a common tree in Virginia and crop up as volunteers in fields and along the edges of the woods.  We put up a cedar tree each Christmas until I was grown and away from home.

I’ve always considered the process of finding and bringing home the tree part of the fun of the season.  Whether the tree was found in a friend’s field, outside of the Food Lion, from a charity Christmas tree lot, or from our friends’ garden center; I’ve always loved bringing home and decorating the annual Christmas tree.

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My parents' tree in 2011

My parents’ tree in 2011

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I can remember lying on the floor looking up through the tree at all of the lights and ornaments.  The same old ornaments took on fresh glamour hanging among the tiny colored lights.  When I was a child, my mother constructed little villages beneath the tree with ponds, skaters, trains, and houses.  We would play under the tree in the evenings, enjoying its glow and fragrance.  But the presents never appeared until Christmas morning.

In my father’s childhood the Christmas tree was part of the Christmas morning surprise.  It appeared after he and his brothers had gone to bed on Christmas Eve, and was seen for the first time on Christmas morning lit and skirted with gifts from Santa.

Now, many families bring out their Christmas trees on Thanksgiving weekend.  Carting the artificial tree out of storage goes along with leftover turkey, and it’s certainly up and decorated before the children return to school on the first Monday of December.  Families enjoy the tree for the entire month, and then pack it away again before the New Year.

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The tree is an integral part of our Christmas celebrations.  Whether living or fresh cut; plastic, metal, or tinsel; large or small; our Christmas tree is the center of our Christmas decorations.  Gifts are somehow “blessed” by being laid beneath the tree.  We cover the tree in lights and adorn it with ornaments which have meaning and relevance to our lives.

The first Christmas tree in Williamsburg was lit in 1842.  A William and Mary classics professor, Charles Minnigerode, newly emigrated from Germany, put up the tree for the children of his colleague, Nathaniel Tucker, at the St. George Tucker House, where he was boarding.  The tree was trimmed with candles, cut paper ornaments, and gilded nuts. Other Williamsburg families adopted the custom the following year, and there have been Christmas trees in Williamsburg every since.

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A variety or ornaments decorate this tree, including origami, blown glass balls, bows, and lights.

A variety or ornaments decorate this tree, including origami, blown glass balls, bows, and lights.

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The Christmas tree became popular in England after one was decorated at Windsor Castle for Queen Victoria by her husband, Albert, in 1841.  Albert brought the custom with him from his native Germany where trees were trimmed with candles to look like stars in the starry sky.  Ornaments included sweets tied onto the tree with ribbons.  The royal family, of German descent, had enjoyed small Christmas trees in the palace as early as 1800 hung with sweets for the children at royal parities, but the practice became popular throughout England after an illustration of Victorian and Albert with their children around a Christmas tree was published in a London paper.  A similar illustration ran in an American paper the following year, and the custom soon spread throughout the country.

German families had been cutting small evergreen fir trees and bringing them indoors to decorate with candles and sweets since at least the 16th century. Wax and gingerbread ornaments were sold at Christmas markets as souvenirs, and the first tinsel, made from real silver, had been produced in 1610.  Each member of the family often had their own tabletop tree, decorated with their own ornaments, where their presents were placed.  Most ornaments were home made from paper, fruit, nuts, candy, or baked goods.  Paper flowers in red or white were used to make the tree resemble the “tree of paradise” from the garden of Eden, and ornaments were symbols of plenty.

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This hand made ornament uses a real oyster shell and cultured pearl, hung with a ribbon.

This hand made ornament uses a real oyster shell and cultured pearl, hung with a ribbon.

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In the 15th century there are records of trees decorated with sweets and small gifts erected in guild halls in northern Germany.  Apprentices and children of guild members collected gifts from the tree on Christmas Day.  Community trees were also sometimes erected out of doors in the market.  Young people often danced around the trees.

Colonists in Virginia, like many families in England, used evergreen branches to decorate for Christmas. The first Christmas trees appeared after 1842.

Colonists in Virginia, like many families in England, used evergreen branches to decorate for Christmas. The first Christmas trees appeared after 1842.

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There is a long tradition of venerating trees in Europe.  Evergreen trees or branches were brought indoors at the winter solstice as early as the 12th century, and hung upside down from the ceiling.  Their triangular shape was used to explain the Christian trinity.  Branches of evergreen plants have been used indoors during winter to symbolize eternal life since ancient times all over Europe, the Middle East, India, and Asia.

The ancient Celtic people venerated trees and associated specific trees with the gods and goddesses of their mythology.  The Druid priests hung golden apples and lit candles on oak trees to celebrate the winter solstice.  Romans decorated evergreen trees with small gifts, and topped the tree with an image of the sun during Saturnalia.  When Christianity spread across Europe veneration of trees continued, and trees were incorporated into the Christian teachings.  Trees grew in popularity in Germany after the Protestant Reformation.

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A star on top of the Christmas tree has its roots in ancient custom.

A star on top of the Christmas tree has its roots in ancient custom.

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Christmas trees became popular throughout Europe and North America during the 1840s.  Although there are records of individuals, of German heritage, constructing Christmas trees in North America before that time; the custom didn’t catch on until after the illustration of the Royal family’s tree from Windsor Castle was published.

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Many people use a combination of hand made and purchased ornaments on their tree.

Many of us use a combination of hand made and purchased ornaments on their tree.

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German made glass Christmas ornaments were introduced in England by the 1870’s and Woolworths store made them available in America in the 1880s.  Before this ornaments were made by hand for the family tree.  Electric Christmas lights were patented in America in 1882 and metal hooks for hanging ornaments were patented in 1892.  German glass ornaments remained the “gold standard” of ornaments for many years. After 1918 export issues made it harder to get German ornaments. The United States began producing Christmas ornaments.  After World War II Japan, and then China, began producing Christmas ornaments for the United States.  Most of our Christmas decorations are now manufactured in China.

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By the 1890s Americans were bringing larger trees home and the table top tree popular in Europe was replaced by the full sized floor to ceiling trees we enjoy today.  By 1900 “themed” trees became popular and mass produced Christmas ornaments were widely available on the East Coast.  Out west, those who put up Christmas trees were still making many of the decorations by hand.  Tin ornaments grew in popularity.  Some families created Christmas trees by wrapping branches of hardwood trees in cotton batting to resemble snow.

Germany first produced the “goose feather” tree in 1880.  These were made to protect the evergreens trees which were getting butchered each year across Europe to meet the demands for Christmas trees.  These were small table top trees, and caught on in England, especially when Christmas trees became less popular after Queen Victoria’s death.

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Other manufacturers followed with “bottle brush” trees, and the first aluminum tinsel trees appeared in the 1950s. Popularity for artificial trees increased, and by the 1970’s American manufacturers produced the first realistic green plastic artificial trees.  These have improved in quality and appearance ever since.  Sears, Roebuck and Co. offered its first artificial Christmas trees in 1883.

The most popular artificial trees today are already wired with lights and decorated with small cones and berries.  You simply set them up and plug them in.  Some families have a place to store them, assembled and decorated, from January through November. The trees are simply moved into place, plugged in, and the festivities begin again each year.

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The Christmas tree tradition appeared to come full circle when potted living trees grew in popularity in the United States as a part of our environmental movement.  These small, living table top trees live indoors in pots during the Christmas season, and can be planted out in the garden afterwards.  The trick, of course, is to keep them watered and alive indoors until they can be planted out.

A National Christmas tree has been lit each year at the White House since 1923. Other large public trees are decorated each year, including the tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City, which has been decorated and lit each year since 1933.  Some of these have been living trees, transplanted in place to serve as a living Christmas tree used again and again each year.  This has not proven very successful over time as the trees are often damaged during the decorating process, or by the weight and heat of the lights and ornaments.  Many question whether cutting and transporting these huge, majestic old trees for a few weeks of decoration is a good practice or not.

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This hand blown ornament from Washington State's Glass Eye is made with volcanic ash.

This hand blown ornament from Washington State’s Glass Eye is made with volcanic ash.

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Concern for the damage done by cutting Christmas trees each year has been ongoing in Europe since the 19th century.  Although Christmas trees were first offered for sale in the United States after 1850, they were cut from the wild.  Evergreen forests were being decimated, and President Theodore Roosevelt tried to discourage the practice of cutting Christmas trees out of concern for our forests.

The first Christmas tree farms sprung up to meet the demand for trees in 1901, and have been providing trees to American families ever since.  Of the 30 million cut Christmas trees sold each year in the United States, almost all are grown on Christmas tree farms.  The most popular trees grown for the American market include varieties of spruce, fir, pine, and cedar.

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Harvesting trees cut from the wild for Christmas harms the environment, but trees grown on a farm for Christmas actually help in many ways.

Harvesting trees cut from the wild for Christmas harms the environment, but trees grown on a farm for Christmas actually help in many ways.

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Christmas tree farms are important because trees are planted each year to replace those cut.  During their years of growth, trees filter carbon and air pollution from the air, fixing it in their trunk and branches.  They protect the land from erosion, provide habitat for birds, and allow families to earn a living on land too steep and rocky for other types of farming.  After Christmas the trees are still useful when ground up for mulch, burned as firewood, or used to protect beaches or other areas from further erosion.  Most cities will collect and recycle Christmas trees in January.

My parents finally bought an artificial tree some time in the 80’s when a doctor diagnosed my dad’s allergies to evergreens.  We wondered why he was sick so often for Christmas, and we found out he was reacting to our family Christmas tree.  Families who buy artificial trees do so for many different reasons.  I tried an artificial tree a few years, but always missed the fragrance and feel of the real thing.  Our most recent artificial tree, left behind in the garage by the previous owners, sits in the basement draped in lights; ready to plug in should we ever bring it upstairs again.

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Cedar trees left to grow mature into large trees which feed and shelter wildlife.  Their wood is fragrant and valued  for building and for lining closets and trunks.

Cedar trees left to grow mature into large trees which feed and shelter wildlife. Their wood is fragrant and valued for building and for lining closets and trunks.

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Today, as much as we love our Christmas trees, we almost take them for granted.  When they stay up for weeks at a time and are covered with trinkets made in China, they lose some of the wonder and mystery trees had back in the day.  Once upon a time, the tree was the gift; and the Christmas tree was covered in tiny gifts and treats lovingly tied on with ribbons and string.  It was magical, lit for a few moments with living fire, appearing in the dark days leading up to Christmas.

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O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree
How loyal are your leaves/needles!
You’re green not only
in the summertime,
No, also in winter when it snows.
O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree
How loyal are your leaves/needles!

Ernst Anschütz, 1824

All Photos By Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

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Experimental: Sculpted Trees

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Living in a forest, trees surround us.  We wake to the rising sun gilding the trees, and end the day watching the setting sun paint the sky behind a living lattice work of neighborhood forest.  We plant them, prune them, sweep up their leaves and measure the passing years by their growth.

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Autumn’s approach brings our attention back to our garden’s trees as their leaves brighten and fall.  We watch for acorns; admire newly set buds and reddening berries.

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This autumn, I’ve been inspired to explore trees in a fresh way:  by sculpting them. 

I’ve been working on a collection of trees for the past several weeks which will serve as table center decorations for a Christmas luncheon in our community.

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A friend is sculpting a companion collection of small birds and other woodland animals which we will place in and around the trees to create little woodland scenes.  What you see here is an in-between stage of completed trees waiting for their bases to be blanketed in ‘snow’ and their branches to be filled with tiny birds.

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Since I am a gardener, and not a trained artist, I began experimenting a few months ago with various types of wire to learn to make these trees.   I’ve learned a bit more with every tree that I sculpt.

My textbook has been a collection of images found on the internet, illustrating how others construct their wire trees.

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My second attempt: ‘Oak in autumn.’

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Late summer’s trees had chips of green quartz worked into their branches.  Lately, I’ve incorporated more copper wire, and have been experimenting with bundles of wires composed of different colors, weights and composition.  Each wire has its own properties; its uses and limitations.

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Using only my hands and simple tools, I’m learning to transform coils of wire into an illusion of life and growth.

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The trees are mounted on stones I’ve found either in rock shops, or picked up along the beach.  Each stone has a story,  just as each tree tells a story of endurance and perseverance.

Trees are our longest lived plants, living (when allowed) for centuries.  An oak may grow to live for 1000 years, and redwoods longer.  In this age when developers casually sheer forests and truck them off to paper mills, and desperate farmers burn acres of rain forest to grow a cash crop, we need to pause and take a moment to treasure our trees.

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That is why I’ve been drawn to the trees, to live, to garden and now to sculpt.   I hope these little trees bring joy to those who see them, even as they remind us all that trees are one of our planet’s greatest treasures. 

Trees are Mother Earth’s lungs.   We depend on the trees for the air we breathe, some of the food we eat, and for their part in moderating our climate and our weather.  They capture carbon from the air even as they draw up moisture from the ground and release it to the clouds.  They shade us from summer’s broiling sun, and their burning wood warms us on cold winter nights. 

Trees remain an integral part of our lives.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Experimental

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This is one of my early experimental ‘practice’ trees, sculpted while I was traveling in Oregon last month.

After Christmas

 

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Happy Boxing Day, my friends.  On Boxing Day we celebrate the simple truth that we have survived another Christmas.

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Our Jewish friends might also celebrate that the Christmas season is winding down, but they are quite busy with Hanukkah, which just began on Christmas Eve this year.  They will celebrate their third night tonight.

In Europe, today is also St. Stephen’s Day and the Christmas celebrations of family gatherings and celebratory food and drink continue.

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“Boxing Day” has lingered in our culture, though few of us really remember how it began.  It’s more fun than Christmas in the UK, I’m told, and is a day for giving gifts to important people in our lives who aren’t necessarily ‘family.’

In past times, the wealthy gave ‘Christmas Boxes’ of food and gifts to their employees and vendors.

Some of us still remember the postman with a little something this time of year… and ours has certainly earned a little appreciation!  We’ve had packages left at our door before 8:00 AM more than once this month.

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Some of us still observe the old “Twelve Days of Christmas,” and will keep our Christmas lights up and plan gatherings with friends and family through the first week of January.

Our Christmas tree is usually still up as January draws to a close.  After all the fuss of putting it up, one may as well enjoy it until it dries out, don’t  you agree?

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Others await this special shopping day each year to score the best deals of the season while  retailers try to clear out their remaining holiday merchandise.

Your inbox, like mine, is probably already flooded with special messages from every online retailer with whom you do business and a few more hopefuls….

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But many of us with extended families close by will find themselves traveling to one or another home today for ‘second Christmas.’  We’ll be visiting with those we missed, or who missed us, yesterday.   We won’t find ourselves shopping, but probably will have a completely enjoyable day with loved ones.

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Whatever you do today, please enjoy the day. 

Allow for a bit of relaxation after the rigors of the Christmas shopping/ cooking/ decorating/ card writing/ crafting/ party/ season we’ve just finished.

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December always feels like a marathon to me, and I push myself to ‘get it all done’ by Christmas Eve.  Now it’s finally time for a bit of rest and enjoyment.

Maybe you feel that way too, and have put away your rolls of wrapping paper and unused cards with the same sigh of relief which escaped my lips yesterday afternoon.  What’s done is done, and I’m not going to be tempted to lose these last, sweet days of December doing much more.

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My first gardening catalog of the new year arrived on Christmas Eve.  What a sweet gift postman ‘Santa’ left for me on Saturday!  It had a nice selection of ‘New’ 2017 introductions to savor.

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That said, I can feel the joyfulness of ‘Boxing Day’ in this morning’s light.

Another Christmas has come, and now we can sit back and enjoy those things  which matter to us most.  We can gather with loved ones if we want, but we’re also free to head of to our favorite chair with a good book or catalog.

And there’s finally time to take a nap.  And of course, to head back out to the garden to simply enjoy the beauty of it all….

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Sunday Dinner: Expecting Christmas

Holiday decorations at Colonial Williamsburg

Holiday decorations at Colonial Williamsburg

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“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world,

and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ”

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Norman Vincent Peale

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“Blessed is the season

which engages the whole world

in a conspiracy of love.”
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Hamilton Wright Mabie

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“He who has not Christmas in his heart

will never find it under a tree.”
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Roy L. Smith

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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Bright Christmas

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Caladium ‘White Christmas’ simply glows, illuminated by our August afternoon sun.  These grow beneath a white Crepe Myrtle tree.   You might notice a few white blossoms fallen to the ground beside the Caladiums.

This is a good pairing because the Crepe Myrtle offers filtered shade for our Caladium bed, and the Caladiums fill the space beneath the tree with movement, color and interest.

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Both Crepe Myrtles and Caladiums grow happily and easily in our garden.  Neither suffers from munching or pests and they require minimal care, while giving maximum pleasure.  This is a great gift for Virginia gardeners; a gift of beauty which lasts for many weeks.

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Calaldiums also pair well with impatiens. These C. 'White Christmas' grow in my parents' garden.

Calaldiums also pair well with impatiens. These C. ‘White Christmas’ grow in my parents’ garden.

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It is good to have reliable plants in your gardener’s ‘palette’ which you can turn to again and again.  These beautiful white leaves, and white flowers, keep the garden bright during the toughest months of our summer season.

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C. 'White Christmas' looks crisp and cool planted with ferns.

C. ‘White Christmas’ looks crisp and cool planted with ferns.

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They create an illusion of coolness.  And the Caladiums will maintain their beauty until hit by frost.  Crepe Myrtles generally offer us at least 100 days of flowers each year.

Are these plants you can grow in your garden?  Do you share our August  ‘Bright, white Christmas’ ?

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Lagerstroemia indica 'Natchez' grows to 30' high in our area. These beautiful Crepe Myrtle trees naturalize and grow with little assistance or cultivation. I prefer to prune and shape our trees in late winter to direct their strong growth and promote abundant summer flowers.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Natchez’ grows to 30′ high in our area. These beautiful Crepe Myrtle trees naturalize and grow with little assistance or cultivation.  I prefer to prune and shape our trees in late winter to direct their strong growth and promote abundant summer flowers.  Their peeling bark and sculptural form looks beautiful in the landscape through the winter.  Leaves turn bright orange-red in autumn.

 

 

What’s Hanging On Your Tree?

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What hangs on your Christmas tree this year?

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I hope the ornaments give you joy, whatever they may be; are fun, and hold good memories.

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Our friend brought us a beautiful hummingbird last night, made by her daughter, who is a potter.

The top half of our Christmas tree is always covered with birds.  I’ve been collecting them for more than 40 years now, and some of the originals are still with us!

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I also collect stars and snowflakes, loving their beautiful geometry.

The only snowflakes we’ll see this  Christmas are the porcelain kind.  But that is really fine. 

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We have our snowflakes on the tree, and the garden remains full of flowers instead of blanketed in ice and snow.

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And I was inspired to make a new set of ornaments for our trees this year, which celebrate the beauty of bare branches against a winter sky.

These are simply glass balls decorated with free hand drawings of bare trees.

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They bring to mind the traditional Yggdrasil, the World Tree, which allows one to travel between the worlds.  The roots of all of these trees connect.

It is as though each orb is covered with a forest of small trees, which really are only one tree growing out in all directions.

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Our Christmas decorating has also been minimalist this December.  We are enjoying the simplicity of it.  Most of our traditional decorations remain packed away.

We didn’t plan it that way; I was busy with other projects and left the decorating to the last minute this year.

But we have our lights and our trees.

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And we greeted the sun’s rising this Christmas morning, barely visible behind the  mist  and clouds.

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Beauty always surrounds us, when we remember to remain in the ‘Now.’

Merry Christmas!

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Woodland Gnome 2015

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge: Now!

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We found this Great Blue Heron on her nest, along College Creek this afternoon.

We found this Great Blue Heron on her nest, along College Creek this afternoon.  What a beautiful gift to find this majestic bird on Christmas Day!

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