Our Tree: The Graceful Evergreen
Words by Louisa Thomsen Brits Photographs by Leo Patrone & Parker Fitzgerald
With the in breath of wintertime, we gather with unhurried intent for quiet observance, merrymaking and a celebration of the evergreen gifts of rest and renewal.
Our small tree stands at the heart of our celebration, holding out branches lit with candles in a silent gesture of warmth and generosity. It is a point of contemplation and a symbol of quiet hope. Its spiral of evergreen branches and whorls of fine needles remind us that life flows and is constant. We have decorated it with red wooden hearts, wax stars, pale straw snowflakes and white lights. In return, it offers us ancient wisdom from the past, to make sense of our present and guide us in the future.
There is promise in the gifts we have tucked beneath the tree and in the way we yield to the moment and to each other. We allow ourselves to be childlike and to be touched by the reassuring presence of our tree, by its elemental nature and upright beauty. The air is full of the clean earth and spice scent of resin. We are lifted out of time, beyond everyday life, to a place of stillness and wonder.
Beginning with the youngest child, each one of us chooses a carol or song. We begin to dance. Faster and faster. Shadows race across the walls. We remember the spirit of the darksome earth, the fertile soil where our tree took root and acknowledge the shadow that exists in each of us. Together we face the darkness outside and within. Our small circle of light shines out into the night.
Inside our home and outside in gardens, parks and forests, evergreen trees stand sentinel as the year moves quietly forward toward spring. Signs of early growth in the luminous green tips of pine branches remind us of the possibility of regeneration and birth.
To bring evergreen trees, boughs and sprigs into our homes is more than tradition. It is an act of hope and recognition, passed from generation to generation, culture to culture—a simple ritual that invites magic and healing, that breathes life, that lifts the spirit and makes things happen. According to folklore, pine is the giver of foresight, setting us on the right course for the coming year. When we gather yew and holly to hang above our doorways, we echo the steps our ancestors took to ward off evil and to heal the sickness we feel when we are trapped inside by the weather. The smoke and sap of evergreen trees clear our dark moods, self-blame, aches, guilt and tension and create space for positive thought and action.
Our tree, and the precious transient gift of its presence, changes our home. It feels like a blessing. We treat it as a companionable houseguest, waking each day to enjoy its quietude with our morning coffee. Some nights, we carry quilts and pillows into the drawing room to sleep close to it and to treasure its company until Epiphany. Then we light the candles one more time, remove and wrap each decoration for safekeeping, sweep up fallen needles and carry the tree outside. Each branch is kept for kindling. We collect the sweet scented logs cut from its straight trunk, cast-off and worn-out clothes and thick branches of slow-burning yew to build a Yule fire that frees the spirit of the solar year. When the fire has burned out, the ash is worked into the soil to prepare for planting and new growth.
We trust that the tree was glad to hold our garlands and candles, to share its own harmonious beauty, and bring us its message, “What I do is be me. That’s why I am here.” We remain touched by its grace. It has helped us look inward, and has showed us how to flow outward. The gratitude we feel for the gift of its life, and our own, will permeate our year.
When we walk the soft paths of an evergreen forest, look up through the branches of a towering pine, or place a small sprig of holly on the mantelpiece, we know the comfort of renewal and continuity. We take time to contemplate our contribution to life, to celebrate our connection to each other and to feel the silky bonds between us and the natural world that offers us shelter, warmth, protection, wisdom and hope