Deck the halls...

Christmas trees at Little Gaddesden

Christmas trees at Little Gaddesden - Credit: Archant

By the time this is printed, there is no doubt that most people will have their Christmas decorations up! I have to confess that mine have been up for a while now… and at the earliest possible opportunity; once the calendar has flipped over to December.. I’m up in the loft (or more likely sending my dad up there) to get down my decorations. I’ve been collecting a very eclectic mix of Christmas decorations for the last ten years – ever since having my own first tree, and they rate from the ridiculous to the sublime.. my sister has, for several years, given me what I can only imagine, are the most horrible decorations she can find – as a child I was scared of frogs – so most of them are frog related… (who knew they make frog based Christmas decorations?!). Anyhow… I love them all as much as the beautiful antique baubles passed down from family, or the crystal drops, which sparkle in the fairy lights – because they make me think of my sister. All of these things are pointless without the tree though – the Christmas tree, which forms the heart of most people’s Christmas decorations, has been a fixture in our homes in this country since they became popular in Victorian times.

The Christmas tree first became popular when an engraving, depicting Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family was released in the 1840s. The engraving showed the Royal family enjoying Christmas around their Christmas tree. Prince Albert is said to have sent decorated trees to army barracks, and schools that were local to Windsor. The tradition of Christmas trees, which had been popular in Germany, soon became common in Great Britain, and across the world.

Although nowadays a lot of people buy an artificial tree, the buying of a real Christmas tree is still a very important part of many people’s Christmas tradition. The smell of a real tree in the house will evokes memories of childhood Christmases, and although they are often a little more “natural” looking – not totally symmetrical, they are affectionately decorated by families up and down the country. Often having their own preferred type of tree – ones which don’t drop needles, those with a slightly blue tinge to their colour, and those which are more thickly populated with branches, it doesn’t much matter which type you choose, they are all an iconic part of the festivities.

Christmas trees in our homes have changed a lot over the years. When they were first introduced, they may have had real candles attached to the branches – before the electric fairy lights that we are familiar with today came into use. Nowadays the thought of putting lit candles onto a tree in the house seems ridiculous, and would be considered to be very dangerous, but the baubles haven’t changed much over the years, and I personally prefer to use older looking decorations on my tree for a really traditional look. The use of lights and decorations on trees inside our homes, seems to have also been reversed slightly, with more and more families choosing to put lights and decorations outside of their homes too – to brighten up their neighbourhoods during December. Christmas lights on fir trees and on the outside of houses is becoming a very popular practise.

Driving through a residential part of St Albans earlier this week, I noticed several wreaths hanging on front doors. Wreaths seem to be becoming more popular, as people decorate the insides of their homes for Christmas, they want to put a sign of festive cheer on the outside of their house, for neighbours and passers-by. It’s very festive to see the Christmas wreaths appearing on streets, and it’s lovely as a gardener, to see the inventive ways that people have created their own, with different types of holly and greenery. Some are getting really creative, with the use of walnuts and dried oranges on wires. In the same way that people like to arrange flowers in different ways, so do they like to have their own individual style of wreath.

The use of greenery in our homes is an ancient one – and since pagan times, people have been using evergreen foliage to keep the signs of life alive during the dark winter months. The way in which we celebrate Christmas now, seems to be an amalgamation of many ancient rituals and celebrations, which have formed the festivities that we recognise today as traditions.

A brief guide to Christmas “garden” decorations:

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I have long been an advocate of bringing the “outside, inside”, by decorating the house throughout the year, with things from the garden. It’s very important to check with any plants that will be in your home, that they are not harmful, irritant, or poisonous before using them in the home. Some plants will be toxic to your pets, even if they are not considered harmful to people – so if you’re not sure, check before you use them.

Kissing Balls: These are still used – particularly at winter weddings, but were originally used in Victorian times. Consisting of evergreen foliage, and mistletoe, they also sometimes had scented herbs included within them. The main idea behind the kissing ball, is of course to steal a kiss from anyone standing beneath it! Popular at winter balls and dances, they are often on the wish list of winter brides. They are a lovely tradition, and are my personal favourite addition to the Christmas decorations within the home – mistletoe is my favourite of all the winter plants, and it’s curvy shape escaping from the tight form of a mistletoe kissing ball, is very seductive in its own way!

Wreaths: The wreath is now largely used on the front door – and can be made of different types of greenery – sometimes holly is used in an oasis style base, or you can use a basis of moss inside a wire base – this is my personal preference – as sometimes it’s difficult to ensure that all of the oasis is covered – it gives a more professional finish, but it can end up being very heavy!!

Christmas Tree: As we all know – the most important of all of the winter decorations – cut, or potted, big, or small – one of the most instantly recognisable symbols of Christmas.

Swags: Swags are long lengths of greenery which can be used to decorate mantelpieces, or are increasingly being threaded through stair banisters. It would seem that people are embracing lots of different ways of using foliage and greenery to decorate the rest of their houses for Christmas, rather than just decorating a tree.

Advent wreaths: These are not often used anymore, but can still be seen in a lot of churches during advent. They look like a door wreath, but will be sitting flat, rather than hanging, and will include five candles – one for each Sunday in Advent, and a central candle which is lit on Christmas Day.

Things to do in the garden this month:

This month is all about keeping on top of the tidying in the garden – sweeping up leaves and adding them to your compost, and doing what you can to keep the garden from looking too drab and sorry for itself

Enjoy having the outside-inside this month – Christmas trees, wreaths, and kissing balls all add something really special to the house over the festive period

Keep inside in the warm as much as possible… it will soon be January, and time to get out into the garden with lots of spring jobs to do – so don’t feel too bad about not being out in the garden as much this month – there will be plenty to do soon enough!