The Symbolism of Trees

The Christmas Tree Tradition
The Christmas Tree Tradition

Did you know that during this time of year 30-45 million trees are brought home and decorated in the United States alone? That is a lot of trees. Why are we so enamored with the fir tree this time of year?

    It seems that evergreens have been a symbol of rebirth from ancient times. Bringing greenery into one’s home, often at the time of the winter solstice, symbolized life in the midst of death in many cultures. The Romans decked their homes with evergreens and other greenery during the Kalends of January. Living trees were also brought into homes during the old German feast of Yule, which originally was a two-month feast beginning in November. The Yule tree was planted in a tub and brought into the home. However, the evidence just does not exist which shows that Christians first used trees at Christmas as a symbol of rebirth, nor that the Christmas tree was a direct descendant of the Yule tree. On the contrary, the evidence that we have points in another direction. The Christmas tree appears to be a descendant of the Paradise tree and the Christmas light of the late Middle Ages.*
    Although the information is sketchy, it seems that the fir tree was used mostly during pre Christian times as a symbol of new life during the darkest time of the year in northern climes and as a way to celebrate life during this time of the year. This celebration took place at the winter Solstice. The rising of the sun on the darkest day of the year echoes the birth of the light from the dark void on the first day of Creation. This led to setting candles as well as other handcrafted items on the branches. One can see how the Christian tradition of the birth of Christ is metaphorically similar to the birth of the sun, no pun intended.

      My associations with trees is the Tree of Life. This is an archetypal or universal symbol that connects heaven, man and earth; the limbs reaching heaven, the trunk being man and the roots symbolizing earth. Another similar connection is that the branches reach into the heavens, while the trunk bridges heaven with earth. This enduring symbol of all life can be seen in many cultures all over the world.
      On a more personal level, I just love trees.. All kinds. I love them because they make me feel so alive. I love that they are homes to other wildlife. They are said to be the lungs of our great Mother, the earth, they bring shade, color and remind of us all the seasons of life as they shed their leaves, bring gorgeous blossoms in the spring, provide shade on the summer and give us the gift of color in the fall. Even the varied fir trees have gifts we use to decorate with such as pine cones, seeds and needles.
       As a child, I spent many hours exploring, dreaming and imagining the magic that happened in the woods, in forests, and orchards. I have had more cases of poison oak than I would like to remember from tromping through forests in the mountains here and there.

Into the Woods
Into the Woods
      I paint trees because they evoke such strong memories for me of being hugged by nature. I remember sitting in silence on the Forrest floor, being as still as I could be, to wait for deer, birds, squirrels to come and play, while I imagined I was invisible to them. My father taught me to sit down wind in a Forrest so they couldn’t detect my scent. So, yes, I live in a place where trees live and share there space with me. Where I get to hear birds sing their songs, make nests in the spring and where squirrels romp, chatter and play.
    I try to capture these feelings and the beauty of these glorious living symbols when ever I can.
* Excerpt from “The Origin and Meaning of the Christmas Tree” by Dr. Richard P. Bucher
Until next time I hope you find time to enjoy this season of Holi-days.
SAVE the Date:
I am hosting Ruth Armitage,an award winning abstract artist from Portland, Or. January 23 – 25. She will be teaching us how she works with acrylic/water color. You can still sign up for her workshop: The ABC;s of Abstraction. Go to my website to place your deposit or contact me for more information.
Embracing Your Inner Artist: I will be teaching a class with acrylics and mixed media beginning Feb.6th. Every other Friday from 10:00- 12:30 a.m. – $120 4/session class or $35 drop in rate. See students work on my website and sign up there as well. Location: My home studio.