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Making a Green Christmas

Aug 17, 2007
A writer of the seventeenth century declared that "a green Christmas is neither handsome nor healthful." He was referring to Christmas outdoors, of course. Indoors, the use of evergreens in decoration is traditional. It is interesting to note that evergreens were not used, at first, for their decorative value, but because of their symbolism.

In many parts of the world, any tree which seems to defy the killing cold of winter is given a mystical significance and is frequently associated with religious feasts and ceremonies. The evergreen tree serves this purpose beautifully. It brings nature indoors. The scent of some, such as the balsam fir, adds fragrance to beauty and builds up enduring memories. Perhaps the sense of smell is the most nostalgic of all. We are probably remembering our childhood when we say that a decorated room not only looks, but "smells like Christmas."

Of decorations, Holly belongs to Christmas by tradition, but it does not flourish in the wild in all parts of the country. Fortunately for the Christmas decorator, it is now being grown commercially in many places, especially Oregon. There it is harvested properly and legally. This is also true of Christmas trees. Great numbers are sent to market from our national forests, where they are selected and cut with forethought for the future of our timberlands.

Sometimes scarcity is a good thing. It inspires a search for substitutes, and sometimes the substitute turns out to be more satisfactory than the original commodity. Because holly grew scarce and it was no longer quite respectable to use it freely for wreaths, decorators became interested in other appropriate greens. Now holly no longer commands the scene, for nearly every kind of plant supplies material for holiday decorations.

Nevertheless, the center of the Christmas picture is still the tree itself. Many different trees may be used, but some are much better for the purpose than others. The best are the firs (Abies), the white, Nordmann and balsam, because they do not shed their needles. The balsam fir (Abies balsamea) has the added charm of fragrance. Many people do not know evergreens by name, but the difference between the fir and spruce can be detected by touch. Most firs are soft, while spruce trees are prickly as pincushions. More technically, fir needles are attached to their stems by suction-like cups at the base. In addition to the true firs, a tree of good qualities is the so-called Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga taxifolia).

Many people like to trim living trees, which are certainly most attractive. Some gardeners can point with pride to trees that have celebrated a Merry Christmas and lived for many years more to add beauty to a home's surroundings. The spruces (Picea) are preferable for this purpose. The Norway spruce is least desirable, but also the least expensive in most localities. Indoors it is important to give living trees plenty of water so that they will not die soon after they are planted in the open.

All evergreens should be cut carefully with clean, sharp shears so that wounds will quickly heal. Proper cutting stimulates growth and thickens the plant. Although the correct time for pruning is before new growth starts, winter trimming does no harm.
If these evergreens are not available in quantity, preparation for Christmas should not stop with buying and setting up a tree. Instead acquire two trees. Cut up the extra one for wreaths and other decorations.
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