December 2020 - the traditions of Christmas past

Find out how you can bring nature back into your home with some old-time Christmas traditions!
Christmas tree short

Fairy lights flicker in the depths of night. Perfectly-pointed tinsel trees shimmer in windows, brimming with baubles like plump ripe fruits. Festive cheer slowly starts to creep into our lives as Christmas pop pours through the speakers. It seems so obvious that these things should be a part of our Christmas ritual and yet, these things are not the traditions of old.

Red deer in snow

Peter Cairns/2020VISION

In the yellowed pages of Christmas stories, we see a very different kind of Christmas: the candle lit nights, ice skating on frozen lakes and snow filled streets. Those Christmases are very much from a different world and yet we still show a longing for them. We cherish them in our cards and repeat the stories of old as if there might be a way back to when Christmas was simpler.

Among all the plastic trees and the consumer gifts, there are ways we can bring some of that natural Christmas magic back. We might not be able to bring about a white Christmas but perhaps we can breathe a bit of life back into our festivities.

holly

WildNet - Philip Precey

Make your own wreaths:

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly”

We still sing the words even if we forget the meaning. Christmas was once about bringing nature into our homes! In a time before plastic, when things didn’t arrive in polystyrene, people gathered their decorations from the wild.

Right now, while most trees lie bare and barren, the evergreens are taking centre stage. Glossed green holly reigns alongside frosted-tipped ivy. We can still make them part of our modern Christmas traditions by making our own wreaths and garlands.

ivy

Scott Petrek

Start off by finding some long and flexible branches from your garden – these should be thin enough that you can bend them into a circle but not so thin that they snap. Recently grown branches from a deciduous tree are your best options as these are green and flexible on the inside. Alternatively, you could use an old wire coat hanger and bend it into a circular shape. Either way, secure the branch or wire’s shape with some twine.

Next, put on your gardening gloves and find some suitable evergreen plants in your garden. Deep green conifers usually make up the bulk of a wreath with some holly and ivy thrown in for good measure. If you don’t have any of these growing in the garden then how about using a couple of the lower branches from a christmas tree? 

Christmas Wreath

Cut your foliage into small 10-15cm pieces. Line up the base of the stem with the circular frame and secure this with twine, now overlap it with the next piece and repeat the process all around the wreath. You might want to do this a few times in order to fill it out.

Once you are done, decorate the wreath with any pine cones or Christmas decorations that you have spare. Loop some twine through the wreath and tie it in place for hanging.

If you want to get ahead of the game then why not plant some holly and ivy in your garden ready for next year? Not only are these great for butterflies and birds, but they’ll add some year round colour and shelter to your garden!

pine trees

Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Choose a sustainable tree

Once upon a time, that fresh scent of pine trees would’ve filled the air in our homes as we brought in a freshly cut tree inside. Nowadays, many people have an artificial tree for convenience. The question is, which is better for the environment?

As a general rule, if you have an artificial tree, keep using it. Many can’t be recycled and the danger is these trees will end up in landfill for hundreds of years. The best thing you can do is hang on to it. Or if you really fancy a change, why not buy a pre-loved tree and sell yours to a new household to enjoy?

Red squirrel

Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

If you don’t have an artificial tree however, then stick with buying a real tree but from a responsible provider that is local as possible. Buying local helps reduce carbon emissions from transportation and will likely mean your tree will last longer. Some trees are imported from Europe so, if you aren’t buying from a local centre, check it has at least been approved by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Alternatively, use a pot grown tree year on year! You can even rent trees that are grown in special pots and can be dug up and replanted each year.

Here are some more ways you can have an eco-friendly Christmas that doesn’t cost the earth.

Mistletoe

WildNet - Zsuzsanna Bird

Mistletoe

This festive plant of romance is a much less common sight than it once was. Its yellow-green leaves can sometimes be seen nestled in the bare branches of dormant trees. Many people once believed this plant had magical properties because it still managed to grow even in the depths of winter. This is actually possible because mistletoe is a parasite and feeds of the energy of its host tree.

Frosty mistletoe

Zsuzsanna Bird

Not only does it make a great festive decoration but its white berries provide a great food source for birds during the winter months. The white pith is rich in fat making them a great choice when food is scarce. The inner seeds then stick to the bird’s beak meaning they have to rub it against a branch in order to wipe it off. It’s this process which then allows mistletoe to spread as the seeds slowly take hold and tap into the tree’s nutrients.

In spring, you can replicate this process when the berries have fully matured. All it takes is placing a seed against a small cut in a tree branch. It especially likes apple, lime and hawthorn trees; although, it will grow on others. Until then though, why not use a small sprig for decoration?

12 days wild christmas banner (white)

Sign up to 12 Days of Wild Christmas and send us your photos!

Have you made your own decorations using things from your garden? Send us your photos and stories to our inbox, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages!

And why not sign up to our Twelve Days of Wild Christmas while you’re at it?