Turkey Day has come and gone, crowds have rushed out to buy more than they need or can afford, and traffic around shopping centers will be unbearable.
It’s Christmas! It’s time to, in the words of Auntie Mame, “Haul out the holly.”
I’ll be honest — when it comes to decorating for Christmas, I prefer a simpler, natural approach. I’m not a fan of giant inflatable snowmen, plastic light-up characters and other cheesy decorations. I’m also not a fan of decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving (one holiday at a time, people! You do know that Christmas starts on Dec. 25 and goes for 12 days, right?), but that’s neither here nor there. Unfortunately, several of my neighbors hold to neither philosophy.
When it comes to decorating for the holidays, needless to say I prefer a simpler, natural approach. The best inspiration — and materials — come from nature and from your very own landscape. It is no secret that the celebration of Christmas was timed by early church leaders to coincide with other ancient winter festivals that predate Christ.
Saturnalia was a Roman festival that celebrated Saturn, the deity of agriculture, and the harvest. Yule was a 12-day midwinter festival celebrated by Germanic pagans into which Pope Julius I inserted Christmas in AD 336 (there was no celebration of Christmas until then), giving rise to the 12-day Christmastide festival (or Yuletide, depending on where you are).
The celebration of the winter solstice is also of pagan origin, a celebration of the darkest, or shortest, day of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere) and the rebirth of the sun.
Many of these festivals included the bringing of evergreens and natural elements indoors to celebrate the connection between humans and nature. They were a sign that life would return after the cold, harsh winter.
If you look at many of the more traditional elements of Christmas, you’ll notice their connection with nature, and specifically plants — evergreens, holly, amaryllis, poinsettias and more. Christmas trees as we know them didn’t debut until the 16th century in Germany.
Decorations in the landscape
Sometimes you have to look no farther than your yard to find natural elements fit for a holiday celebration. If you have evergreen trees or shrubs in your landscape, they can easily be incorporated into holiday arrangements indoors or out.
While you can readily purchase live Christmas greenery at many retailers and markets, what you can harvest from your own yard or woods will be much fresher and last much longer. Remember that harvesting branches from your own trees and shrubs is actually pruning them, so you can kill two birds with one stone.
Both white and Virginia pine make excellent decorating choices as they are long-lived and retain their needles well. Junipers, cedars and firs all have interesting foliage and wonderful evergreen scents. Junipers can sometimes be found with berries and cedars sometimes have tiny cones. Spruce is a great choice for wreaths, as it is bristly and stands up to keep shape.
Decorating doesn’t have to be left to the needled evergreens, though. Holly is a classic choice, but mountain laurel, rhododendron, boxwood and magnolia and many others can provide beauty and elegance in holiday displays.
You don’t even need to stick with green things in your decorating, either. Attractive bare branches, plumes from ornamental grasses and other “brown” things can add contrast. Other natural items, such as fruits, nuts and pine cones can also be incorporated for color and interest.
To keep your greenery fresh, there are some basic tips that you can follow:
- Use sharp pruners to make cuts, and keep the ends of branches in water until ready for use.
- Soak evergreens overnight to absorb moisture.
- Keep arrangements in a cool location until use.
- Keep evergreens out of sunlight to reduce moisture loss.
- Use an anti-transpirant spray to keep in moisture.
- Don’t decorate too early — live plants have a limited lifespan.
- If purchasing plant materials, select healthy, green plants and flexible needles.