Some years ago, I learned that the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is a Christmas tree donated to the people of Britain by the city of Oslo in Norway each year since 1947. Norway seems the best country to learn more about spruces. For many years, even in my childhood, I had a feeling there was a mystery that the spruce would reveal to me one day.
When I found out that Santa Claus, or the Dutch version “Sinterklaas” was not real, my father gave me the book “The Secret of Sinterklaas”. I learned that this fest was all about fire and trees, and that we, as humans, try to control nature, but actually will never succeed in controlling it, as we are not above nature, but part of it.
In Japan, Thailand and other countries, I observed a lot of tree worshipping, and actually, in North and West Europe people still do tree worshipping. Unconsciously. Before the 8th century, people there would burn trees in this time to remind themselves of the sacred gift of fire that our ancestors received ten thousand years ago. The oldest myths in many cultures are about that phase in history when mankind started to use fire, because that was the beginning of exponential technological progress. By burning trees, we remind ourselves humbly of the power of nature. It is a time of the year when we should look at ourselves by gazing at bonfires or candlelight.
Later, the Roman Catholic Church colonised this practice into a Christian one and decided Jesus was born at that time. In the times of inquisition and witch hunts, any form of pagan practice was hidden. The spruce became invisible. Only after the power of the Church weakened during Napoleon’s reign, the Christmas tree was re-introduced.
That winter in Norway, I did not get any teaching from her. I took photographs, re-read the book, and stared at them. I did not feel anything but what I felt when I was standing in front of a closed door.
Last winter, I visited a Christmas market on a heritage site in rural Norway and I noticed the branches at the entrances. I waited for some lesson, as with other plant-teachers.I even asked people there. A young lady said this tradition of putting spruce branches at the threshold is especially done in this part, as here there are a lot of big spruce trees, compared with southern Norway or the high north. She also said this was done when someone in the house had died.
And then it struck me that the Norwegian word for spruce is Grantre. Grandmother tree, was my free translation. Grandmother means wisdom, doesn't it? She got more attention than most other plants in the past three decades.
My relationship with the spruce is like my relationship with both grandmothers. I never saw them as my role models. One was married to an alcoholic, the other was afraid of the world and getting sold like her aunts to a monastry. They were invisible creatures, staying in the shadows, hidden, surviving.
Sometimes, not all relationships can give you what you want, or worse, what you need.
© Wendy Wuyts 2022-04-11