Revels in Branches and Boughs

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Charlie’s Corner is the domain of Charlie, the furry four-legged lady’s man of the Market Common. Each month, he’ll share information to help all new, visiting, and existing doggie community members get the most out of life alongside their human companions. Here, we’ll feature his reflections on what it’s like to be a dashing downtown doggie, as he reminds all of us how to play well together. 

This December, Charlie snuggles under the Christmas tree and revels in the old-fashioned holiday tradition of branches and boughs.

Oh boy the holiday season is here! I wonder if I’ll get a visit from any magical creatures this year like I did in years past. (You’ll have to visit the archives to keep up with me.) 

I’m looking forward to parties, twinkling lights, and cozying up under warm blankets this time of year. But I’m even more excited about our Christmas tree. Jim just brought one home yesterday. I am very well trained, thank you very much, and so my excitement over a tree ensconced in our living room for the next month or so has nothing to do with my bathroom habits, just to be clear.

There’s something so magical about a little fir tree inside the home all decked out in lights and ornaments. And the smell is simply magnificent. I wonder who came up with this tradition? And why we put decorations on it?

Because I just love ferreting out facts as much as I love making new friends, let me put on my doggie spectacles and investigate the origins of this tradition.

For centuries humans have been using fir trees to celebrate festivals in the winter. Some cultures brought branches into their homes to stay hopeful during the cold, dark. and dreary winter days (they must not have lived in Myrtle Beach because it’s really not that bad here, although these were the days before indoor heating so maybe it was that bad). 

The live trees and branches they collected reminded them of the impermanence of winter and the promise of spring and the abundance of life that comes with it. One source mentions that people used to hang trees upside down with chains from their ceiling. 

Mmmm. That seems very complicated to me. I wonder how many people it would take to accomplish that? What are the chains attached to? I’ll bet it’s a really interesting visual though.

But, this is also interesting: the first record we have of a tree being used around this time of year occurred in Latvia. Wow, neat! I’ve never been there. Two separate cities, Tallinn and Riga, claim to have been the first to have trees— and they stake that claim almost a century apart. 

The custom began as a communal venture— the trees were erected in the town center, and everyone participated in singing and dancing around them, enjoying them collectively. 

Over time, the custom spread throughout the Baltic region, with each locale creating their own particular ways of making merry with the tree— some lit it on fire at the conclusion of the party; others decorated it with fruits, nuts and paper flowers. The tree became a symbol that differing cultures projected onto, in order to strengthen their beliefs and create solidarity with their neighbors. 

The tradition took root most strongly in Germany, where artisans blew glass to create ornaments, and fashioned pieces from pure gold. They also put edible treats on the trees. This was a time when food was more basic than the myriad of options we have today. And sweet treats and fruit really were a treat— something not that common.

So while you’re decorating your tree this year to represent whatever it means to you, you can think about the people (and pets) before us doing just the same. I know I will. 

Until next time, 

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