Come back pine needles …….

By Alice Maltby

“Joyful Christmas” by Viggo Johansen (1891)
A tree in the house is a highlight of childhood.

I adore real Christmas trees. I fully understood people’s need for bringing out their decorations early last year but we maintained our tradition of having a real tree in mid December even though they seem to be more expensive every year. The scent of pine needles is an integral part of Christmas but this year, instead of our preferred pine tree, we had to buy a ‘no-drop’ Nordman as that was all that was left.

Christmas trees have wonderful histories. Researching this piece I learned how they were introduced by Hessian soldiers stationed in Quebec during the American War of Independence. I will soon be taking down the Christmas decorations but the tree is still in pristine condition. Nary a needle to be spotted on the carpet, adding to the lack of the scent of pine wafting through the house.

Fragrant pine resin.

Pine needles are not just ordinary components of tree greenery. Isabel Bannerman explained their magical effects :”All parts of a Christmas tree contain resin, which consists of two main elements: a volatile oil (turpentine) and a solid (rosin) known to fiddle players.” She added: “This resin has antibiotic and anti-fungal properties protecting the plant. Bees know this and collect it to make propolis. The scent seeps out as the branches settle and relax, fingered and tied-to, almost gaseous but benign. Tomorrow morning the whole house will resonate with a resinous air, like a violinist preparing a bow. A forest has stepped into the hall; I am sure it shuffles nearer the fire when we are not looking. In my imagination, it smells of cedars and the mountains of Lebanon in the silent snow. Bottled, the smell would be electric green.”

I find it very reassuring that, despite all the home ‘wonder’ cleaners on the market, there are two memories than you can never remove -Christmas Tree pine needles and dog hairs!

Rosemary can add fragrance to a midwinter home.

Another tradition being challenged this season is the consequences of leaving the decorations up past Twelfth Night. According to Rowan Pelling, keeping your house festooned is not as unlucky as many people think. Before the 19th century, merrymakers took swathes of greenery and berries into their houses and tended to keep them there until Candlemas on February 2. “This stemmed from the pagan belief you should shelter the tree and hedge spirits from the worst winter storms before taking them outside to ensure regrowth and healthy crops.”

Interior designer, Hannah Bullivant, is an enthusiastic exponent of extending the lives of wreaths to bring joy for longer. She is also a big fan of bringing bunches of fresh herbs into your house, citing thyme and rosemary for their fresh scent and antibacterial properties.

However you are starting 2021, have a Happy New Year!




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