Posts tagged holly

Ghost of Christmas Past

Deb Engmark, head gardener at the historic Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids, wrote the following about decorations of Christmases past:

 

The Christmas tree, the holly wreath, the sprig of mistletoe, and the Christmas bells were the four most “distinctive Christmas decorations” noted in a December 1907 issue of The Garden Magazine.  Stumbling upon this publication the day after the staff and volunteers completed holiday decorating at Brucemore allowed for some interesting comparisons between the times.

Balsam was recommended as the best variety of tree when decorating for Christmas and the best way to adorn it was not to overload it.  Pyramidal trees with short lustrous green needles striped with silver underneath were also popular in 1907 because they “give the impression of a recent light frost.” The month-long holiday season at Brucemore makes these natural, heavy-shedding, historic trees impractical for the mansion, and the temptation to over-adorn is irresistible in such a grand home.  I am not sure any of the staff has the ability to practice the “less is more theory” during the holiday season.

Holly was referred to as the most important decorative Christmas material, the most desirable was English holly with as many berries as possible. The most distinctive way of using holly was in the form of wreaths; the best wreaths were those faced with berries on both sides, “so that when they were hung in the window they would give pleasure to those passing by as well as the family indoors.”

As for the beloved holiday mistletoe tradition, in 1907 it was thought that “because it is not pretty in itself, one sprig of mistletoe is enough for most people.” This is a statement as true today as it was over 100 years ago.

The final “distinctive Christmas decoration” of 1907, the Christmas bells, are absent from the décor of 2008.  The traditional sleigh bells that we appreciate for their own magical sound were not the bells that the magazine referenced. In 1907, “Those big red bells of tissue paper that fold up like a stocking have now become almost a national institution.”  Who knew?

            Families in 1907 were concerned with their holiday budgets much like families in 2008.  According to the article, “The cheapest way to decorate is to collect native material, especially branches of evergreens.”  However, they urge the reader, “not to take any evergreens that do not belong to you without the owner’s approval. It is a gross violation of the Christmas spirit to cut down cultivated conifers on other people’s grounds.” 

            I encourage you to look to nature when decorating this holiday season.  Go forth and use your imagination and homegrown ornaments.  If you are questioned about your holiday aesthetic, cite deep American cultural traditions.  This method allows for creativity until the seed and plant catalogs start to arrive.  I too urge you to remember the Christmas spirit when collecting your greenery.

From the Big house at Brucemore may all comfort and cheer be yours this holiday season! 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment »

Fresh trees

The following is by Claire Smith, Linn County Master Gardener:

 

Years ago when pizza delivery was first invented, we invited another family for pizza.   We ate, and then we adults moved to the living room.  At that time, the kitchen heat source in this old house was a Ben Franklin stove.  The kids decided that they would clean up for us (a pleasant surprise!)  Several minutes later, we sensed a smell only describable as HOT.  Running into the kitchen, we discovered the kids had shoved the empty pizza boxes into the stove.  The grease had heated the chimney to a vivid red.  Yes, Virginia, vivid red!  Needless to say we were extremely lucky to have a house left to celebrate the upcoming Holidays! 

It’s getting that time of year for kids to nestle in their beds and think of Sugar Plums and numerous other Holiday pleasures.  It’s also time for families to remember one of the most important items about the holidays that we seldom consider.   Safety!  

Use “live” greenery wisely.  Be certain the garland draped on the mantle is secured adequately.  Evergreens burn like tinder.  Flames flare out of control sending sparks flying into the room and igniting creosote deposits in the chimney. 

The same holds true for those beautiful candles that you place so strategically in the evergreen centerpiece.  Do not leave lit candles unattended. 

Create a family tradition and cut down a live tree at a tree farm.  Fresh trees stay greener longer.  Fresh needles will stay on branches longer and don’t break when bent.   Trim away low branches that will impede the tree from being secured in a sturdy, water-holding stand. Keep water in the stand while the tree is indoors.  Place the tree away from any heat source:  think fire as well as drying out the tree.  If you do purchase a tree from a store or organization, cut an additional two inches off the trunk to expose fresh wood to provide better water absorption. 

For those of you using artificial trees, look for a statement stating the tree is fire resistant prior to purchasing it.  And never, never use electric lights on metallic trees.

Pet and kid proof your trees.  Thin guy-wires can secure trees to walls or ceilings and prevent curious little hands and paws from pulling or knocking   trees around.  Avoid use of extension cords.  A child or pet tangled in an extension cord could cause utter disaster in your home.

Christmas Cactus, Poinsettias, Mistletoe, Holly Berries or any other Christmas plant may cause illness in kids and pets if ingested. 

My husband used to say, “Slow down.  You move too fast.”  I’ve learned.  I took my lesson from the Christmas morning when I thought I could dry one more load of clothes before the extended family arrived and started a mischievous kitten on the ride of his life in the dryer.  Fortunately, I knew the thumping wasn’t normal and immediately rescued a very dizzy, but otherwise o.k. feline.  Common sense is the best plan.  Use it!

 

Leave a comment »