December is my favorite month of the year.
Because while it gets darker and colder outside, people work to create warmth and light.
We set time aside to find connection: to spend time off work and get together, to bring each other food and gifts, to send each other cards. We sing songs, light candles and fires, and hang lights everywhere.
While I'm not religious, I do love the historic significance of these practices. These are things humans have done for generations, across nations. While we don't know all of the details, it was much more connected to the nature than Christian conversion made it.
What is the true origin of the Christmas tree?
Well, the winter solstice is on December 21/22, and is the darkest day of the year. From Egyptians to the Celts to Hebrews to Chinese, evergreen plants were a symbol of light and life. Romans held a feast called Saturnalia and decorated their home with evergreen boughs. Egyptians would fill their homes with green palms that symbolized life and the return of Ra, their god who wore the sun as a crown. Vikings in Scandinavia believed evergreens were the plant of their sun god Balder. And the priests of the ancient Celts, called Druids, would decorate with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life.
How incredibly powerful and beautiful that one thing in nature shared the same message across languages and borders and beliefs.
And how much more incredible that this symbol has sustained through years of change and trial. It was the Germans who first used a tree inside their homes, and the German Pennsylvanians who brought the practice to Northern America. It has survived multiple attempts of Christians to "stomp out" the pagan tradition.
So here I sit, in 2019, in my living room with my pagan tree that we cut down from the nearby forest, telling you about it so that the story never dies.
Should I cut down my own Christmas tree?
It depends. Something that has been cast aside by colonialist Christianity is a deep connection to and respect of the earth and the land and the animals. Many people believe that we are here to "work" the land. To make profits. To own. To control. A belief that was passed down through many colonist teachings.
Side note: It's wild how the people that said it's barbaric to consider nature sacred created our current state of mass slaughter houses for meat production and destroy forests for logging and farming...but that's a conversation for another time.
Indigenous people, on the other hand, know the ancient practices and teach that everything the earth gives us is a gift that we must respect and cherish. If we take a life, plant or animal, we have to know the value and we have to honor it.
Trees give us the very air we breathe, so the most important questions to ask to know if you should cut down a tree is: do I respect the life I'm about to take?
Find a way to balance what you take by either taking on a new plant, planting a tree, donating to any conservancy practices or the very forest where you are taking the tree from. Take it a step further and give back to the original peoples of the land from which you're taking a tree.
The benefits of cutting down your own Christmas tree.
For one, you won't be contributing to the consumerist profits of Christmas by buying an artificial tree. Although there is the argument that it is more sustainable by not cutting down a tree every year, I really don't want to encourage more production of stuff.
Second, you could support a local family by going to a tree farm.
And if you choose the forest route, when you take one tree from a tight bunch will allow the others to flourish.
Finally, it's an amazing experience. Whether you're walking up and down a snowy aisle of a tree farm, or exploring off trail in the local forest, the chance to be present with loved ones and nature is invaluable. Also, your dog will love it.
How do I cut down my own Christmas tree?
1. Do your research.
Find out what local tree farms are around, or find a local forest that legally allows you to cut down a tree.
The closest tree farm was nearly 2 hours away, but the National Forest was only 30 minutes.
2. Respect the rules.
At the tree farm, make sure you know which trees you are permitted to select.
A local forest will have many more rules. First, we bought a $10 permit from the ranger station. Then, we had to stay 200 feet away from any developed area, which included trails, parking lots, camp sites, and the road. We also couldn't take any tree flagged for logging, and had to look out for private property.
3. Be prepared.
Obviously, check the weather. Wear layers and good boots if it's cold and snowy or wet.
If you're going into the forest, check with the local rangers to know road conditions and the snow situation. And never ever go hiking, especially in the winter, without provisions.
There usually isn't service in a forest, and with 3 feet of snow anything could happen. We were encouraged to have: snow shoes, extra food, water, and blankets, a full tank of gas, winter tires or chains, and lots of layers. Having 4 Wheel Drive was an added benefit.
We didn't end up taking snow shoes and ended up exhausted from struggling through snow that was often up to our hips.
4. Make sure you can carry it & transport it home.
Don't get something so big and so far away that you can't get it back to the car.
It was quite a fun time dragging this 7 foot tree through 3 feet of snow haha.
You'll need to put it on the roof, in the bed of a truck, or in the car. We used tie-down straps to make sure it survived the ride back. And it was quite the event because it was CRAZY windy.
4. Enjoy it!
What's the use if you aren't having fun? How amazing that nature gives us trees that stay green all year despite the weather! How incredible that you get to bring it inside, honor it with lights and decorations, and that it fills the house with warmth and joy and really good smells. Take your loved ones, get out in the snow, look at how amazing the earth is without us having to do anything.
And every time you look at your tree, remember that it's a symbol of life and hope that has lasted through many, many generations.