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‘O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum’

December 15, 2012
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

I received from the big brown UPS truck and its little ol' driver so lively and quick, a live Christmas tree last weekend, sent by my oldest granddaughter, a nurse in Sarasota's hospital, where, incidentally, she herself had been born. It was beautifully potted in a shiny red pail. There were lights and ornaments included, but assembly was required. At only 2 1/2 feet tall, it was perfect on a table top for my crowded small home. 'Tis the time in this season to be putting up this Christmas symbol.

I tried living Christmas trees for many years when I first moved here, but all I found were Norfolk Island pines. All their branches at each level came out at the same spot, making ornament hanging look like putting ornaments all on the same shelf, leaving a lot to be desired in uniformity of overall pleasing design. Nevertheless, I left behind several planted Norfolk Island pines at my rental homes. Then I went to buying cut trees at the last minute when they were reduced in price. Cleaning up dried needles for months to come forever after was a pain, eventually; I succumbed to the artificial tree, which I still have stored in a lovely, clean garbage can in the garage.

The Christmas tree's origins are uncertain, but it is definitely associated with celebrating Christmas. A debate rages on about whether it is considered secular or a religious custom. It may have developed out of pagan pre-Christian winter rites, but it can be traced to the 15th and 16th century and defined in early modern Germany, and sometimes associated with Martin Luther. The use of evergreens symbolized eternal life to the ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among pagan Europeans and they brought that with them into their conversion to Christianity.

Scandinavians decorated their homes and barns with evergreens after the New Year in order to scare away the devil, and using the tree to feed the birds.

The popularity of setting up a tree spread beyond Germany in the last half of the 19th century. Customs of erecting decorated tree can be traced to celebrations in Renaissance-era guilds in northern Germany and Livonia. Only at the start of the 20th century did Christmas trees appear in churches, then homes.

Pope John Paul in 2003 said, "Besides the crib, the Christmas tree, with its twinkling lights, reminds us that with the birth of Jesus the tree of life has blossomed anew in the desert of humanity. The crib and the tree: precious symbols, which hand down in time the true meaning of Christmas."

As I was growing up, my Jewish friends informed me, that, they put up a twinkly tree but called it their Hanukkah bush, and we Christians were jealous because they received eight days of gifts. Hanukkah was on the 9th of December this year.

The first interesting artificial tree was developed in Germany during the 19th century - goose feathers dyed green, believed to be Germany's answer to the deforestation of their forests.

Many other gimmicks followed, including hanging it upside down. They primarily came about because of the safety fire issues.

We all love Charlie Brown's Christmas tree that decries the commercialization of Christmas.

The tree I received was the European Cypress tree. The directions were - LIGHT - prefers partial sun, or four hours of bright, indirect light per day. TEMPERATURE - Moderate. It will thrive indoors or outside, but does not tolerate exposure to heaters, freezing temperatures, direct sun, or wind. WATER - water immediately upon receipt. Afterwards, water regularly to keep soil moist but not soggy. In hot dry weather, water deeply once a week. Never allow tree to sit in water. FEEDING AND REPOTTING - After the last spring frost, feed with a well-balanced, granular fertilizer. Re-pot every spring in well-drained acidic soil. PLANTING OUTSIDE - Will thrive outside in Zones 5-11. Plant in early spring to allow tree to become established before summer heat. Mature height is 15 feet, with a 3 foot girth.

Pretty generic directions to encompass zones 5-11. I needed to break it down to fit zones 10 and 11, as I didn't anticipate keeping it indoors ... I needed Nature's helping hand ... There is a lot of full sun here, except under fully developed trees. The rest I had covered. It would remain indoors for the holiday, as for planting, "I'd think about that tomorrow."

I am familiar with "Semper Parartus," always prepared, the Coast Guard song; and Semper Fidelis, always faithful or loyal, because I have a Marine daughter and granddaughter. The Mediterranean Cypress tree, Cypress semper virens, (always green) is known by many names-Common Cypress, Tuscan Cypress, Funeral Cypress and is similar to the Cedar of Lebanon that goes back beyond biblical references, to Greek mythology.

The Graveyard or Funeral tree refers to it being closely associated with cemeteries and mourning. Many cemeteries in south Europe have these trees. It produces some of the world's most prized wood.

The Cypress' columnar shape is not always straight and thin, especially when trimmed to a triangular shape for table top specimens. The Phoenicians and Cretans used this wood for building ships and the Egyptians used it for sarcophagi. It is thought to be the wood of Jesus' crucifixion cross, and can also be used in Bonsai.

Because of my love for trees, "O Tannenbaum" was my favorite hymn, which I sang out loud and lustily. It did not mean, oh Christmas tree, but oh fir tree. The German word for Christmas tree is Weihnachtsbaum, I've been told.

Thank a living Christmas tree, or any tree, that adds to our clean air.

Joyce Comingore is a master gardener, Fort Myers/Lee County Garden Council board member, a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral and a member of the American Hibiscus Society.

 
 

 

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