Evergreen with envy

The Dark Forests of Europe provided some of the first "Christmas trees." PHOTO: Tommie Hansen, Flick CC

The Dark Forests of Europe provided some of the first “Christmas trees.” PHOTO: Tommie Hansen, Flickr CC

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Even in the distant North Woods of Minnesota you can’t avoid our long cultural obsession with “the holidays.” By now, those of you who celebrate have likely put up your Christmas trees. The Noel tradition of decorating an evergreen tree inside the home dates backs centuries, even before Christianity itself.

To discuss this tradition, today I present an interview with Roald Skarg, a longtime denizen of the Dark Forests of Europe, where the tradition originated. Skarg’s family has eschewed modern conveniences for several centuries. He smells like moss, clay and forest fires.

AB: Guten tag, Herr Skarg!

SKARG: Ya, real good.

AB: So, evergreens in December. What’s the big deal?

SKARG: Ya, so in da ancient times deese trees keep color through winter. So, we say da trees represent eternal life. In da Greece, da Celtic Britain, da Scandahandahoovia, das dark forests of Germany, even in da Egypt, ancients bring in da evergreen boughs for da winter rites.

AB: Egypt?

SKARG: Ya, Egypt. Dey use da palm leaves. Same deal.

AB: So all this happened when Christmas started?

SKARG: Nine, nine. Go back to Roman Saturnalia, an’ da druids.

AB: So, pagans?

SKARG: Hey dere, dat’s privileged language!

AB: Sorry.

SKARG: OK, ya, ya. No big deal. But in da ancient times, da pine trees, dey remind us dat life goes on, even in da dead of winter. Very important to know ven da keister near froze off. Dey signify that the sun god is getting stronger as the days get longer. And dat’s not all. Da evergreens also keep out da witches and goblins, which were real problems back den.

AB: You know, the Christmas tree didn’t become common in America until late in the 19th Century. Many people thought it was a sacrilegious tradition.

SKARG: Ya, well, you can’t account for da taste, ya? So, vhat do you Americans do now? You still pull in da tree, right? Fresh cut balsam fir or da like?

AB: Lots of people still use real trees, but a growing number of people use *artificial* trees that can be used year after year.

SKARG: Arty vhat? Da tree is made of fish?

AB: No, no. Plastic.

SKARG: Plastic? Vhat’s dat?

AB: Chemists derive plastics by processing carbon atoms from fossil fuels like oil. Through chemical processes, carbon monomers are combined to craft different forms of polymers. The result is a moldable solid that can be formed into chemically inert containers and products that last forever. Like fake Christmas trees.

SKARG: Krampus! Da devil’s work!

AB: No, we don’t see it that way. Fake trees are easy to maintain. You just string the lights on and boom, you’re set.

SKARG: Lights? Like da candles?

AB: No, the fire safety people pretty well ended those. We use electric lights, either bright white or multi-colored.

SKARG: Witchcraft! And decorations? Mostly da fertility symbols, right?

AB: Well, some of the kids’ homemade icicle decorations are a little risqué. But most of our ornaments come from a long dead Hallmark store and the B-list heirlooms our parents were willing to give up before death.

SKARG: Vhat? You call that da a Christmas tree?

AB: Sure do! It’s pretty. You should see it.

SKARG: Ya, real good. When do you do da sacrifice?

AB: Um, are you referring to last year’s pants? Because that has been ongoing.

SKARG: Ha ha! Pants is funny verd. We just let it hang in da Dark Forest.

AB: Happy Holidays!

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


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