It may not seem unusual to us, but in any other season cutting down a tree and putting it in the middle of your house would seem a little unusual.
The practice was started in Germany, where fir branches decorated homes during winter solstice as a promise of the spring to come.
Romans used fir trees in their temples for the festival of Saturnalia, and for many religions, evergreens symbolize eternity.
Eight of ten Americans put trees in their homes. Noble and Fraser fir are the most common species grown and sold for cutting. Meanwhile, the percentage of artificial trees continues to grow, currently ranging from 70 to 80 percent.
Almost every country has its own unique set of customs, leaving us with a great variety of choices to select from and decorate as we please.
Perhaps more than any other holiday, the primary goal in winter is to bring the outdoors inside. Here are a few ideas for a “natural Christmas”:
» Decorating from your yard makes you pay closer attention to details you might not otherwise notice. Anything still green can be used in arrangements—periwinkle, yarrow, sage, Lenten roses; and anything with berries, cones, nuts or seedpods can be tied with ribbons, or gathered in bowls, pots or other arrangements.
» Planting outdoors for visual impact indoors can eliminate the need for cutting down a tree. Are there places you could plant a shrub or tree that is highly visible from indoors? They can be decorated either for visual impact or strung with popcorn or fruits for birds — and bird-watching.
» In northern Europe, cherry or hawthorn plants were brought indoors in pots with the hope of them flowering at the right time. Poinsettias, amaryllis, holly, ivy, mistletoe and Christmas cactus are far more reliable for us.
» Rather than cutting down an entire tree, if there are branches of evergreen or deciduous woody plants that need pruning, use them for decorating. For smaller delicate ornaments, bare branches offer a better backdrop to show them off.
» If you’re not particular about greenery, anyone with a pasture or wild area will likely give permission to cut down cedars for indoor or outdoor displays.
» Don’t waste trees or branches afterward. They can provide wildlife habitat in out-of-the-way places or be dropped off at recycling sites.
Karma Larsen, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, plantnebraska.org