It is generally understood and accepted that pre Christianity, evergreens played an important roll in MidWinter celebrations in much of Europe and North Africa. Many centuries have passed since our pagan ancestors practiced these traditions and the dominant religion has inserted its own meaning into the practice. Between time and intensional erasure, much has been lost. This leaves us today in a powerfully creative position full of responsibility. We are reforming these traditions; finding meaning that has been lost. When it can't be found, we are creating it.
Ever wonder WHY do we decorate trees and sing “deck the halls”?! There are some traditions that the people simply would not let go of as the pagan holy days were replaced by Christian holy days. Bringing in every green boughs and decorating trees is one of them.
While decorating a tree is a common tradition for those celebrating Christmas, it remains an important and symbolic part of the Solstice Celebration for many people. The tradition of bringing an evergreen tree or branches into the home was recorded as being practiced in pre Christian Europe and Rome as far back as the 4th century CE (according to the History Chanel and a few news outlets in a quick google search). Because all the records of this tradition have been filtered through a Christian record of events, and because those who practiced these rituals did not keep a written record, all we know of the practice is that the evergreen symbolized a promise of sorts - that life would return and all is not lost to the cold and the dark.
As modern day witches (or even just modern day people living an intensional life) we are called upon to find meaning in old traditions and when we can’t find it, we create it. Before I knew of the evergreen traditions as a symbol of continuing life in a time of deep cold and dark, I knew what Evergreen meant to my family:
The evergreens sheild us from winter winds and warm us with their wood. Our very homes are framed in pine, they literally shelter us along with those who call their branches and roots home. In the month of December, we make a point of recognizing this gift, honoring those who give it and practicing gratitude by giving back to the forest.
But what does that look like in practicality and practice?
In our house, the Solstice Tree is an honored guest and the house is cleaned - like REEEEALLY cleaned - and Solstice decorations put up before she is brought in. This is when we are living our ideal lives - we have had years past where we were doing our best to just keep lifing (that IS a verb and it means continuing on with life) and while the sentiment was there, the cleaning was not! And that is okay.
Special care is taken when choosing who we will bring home with us and an offering is made in gratitude. We make an offering to the forest when we harvest our tree (the two years in Seattle we purchased trees from a vendor, we stashed our offering among the branches where her sisters were waiting for a family to bring them home, knowing a city squirrel would be happy for our gift). Our offering is usually a cookie or two, gingersnaps have been the tradition because they look like tree bark but this year Yari was inspired to bake chocolate chip cookies - so chocolate chip it was! Jump to the bottom of the page for the ginger snap recipe we have been using for years.
She is decorated with lights and hand made ornaments. We have almost exclusively used hand made ornaments. Over 20 years of making them and being gifted them means we now have quite a collection. However, in the early years our tree was quite bare and we made popcorn strings and ginger bread people to add to the few hand made ornaments we did have. Those were given to our neighbors, the squirrels and birds come January.
And when her time with us is through, we saw her to pieces to burn with gratitude on Winter Solstice the following year with a toast of mulled wine, a song (and usually a game of “how nervous can we make mom before she snaps at us because of our fire play?”) In most solstice’s past we have had a fire outside or in the wood stove. When we lived in the city, we brought her camping with us and burned her in the summer with a whisper of thanks and an offering of a specially made s’more.
If you are looking for MidWinter inspo or would like to see where I got mine as I created our family’s traditions, check out my MidWinter Pinterest Board.
Ginger Snaps for Spruce Trees and Us
Warning: If you are a snobby baker this is NOT the recipe for you! I literally put it all in the bowl and mix it up - no sifting, no dry/wet pre mixing. But it works for me!
3/4 cup oil
3/4 cup baking sugar
1/4 cup molasses
salt (a little, little bit)
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
Mix it all up & roll up into teaspoon size balls, then roll in sugar (or not). Place on a cookie sheet 2in/5cm apart. Bake @ 350* for 8-10 minutes. The will flatten as they cook and be SUPER soft coming out of the oven but they will stiffen up. Say a prayer of thanks and share them with a tree.
I hope you enjoy these cookies and find inspiration in my own family's journey into our traditions. Be sure to subscribe to the SDK Blog so you don't miss a post and feel free to message me anytime on Instagram or via this website - I love to hear from you.
Merry Mid Winter!