I love the smell of a fresh cut Christmas tree when it’s brought inside. The trick to keeping it fresh and fragrant is to keep the tree hydrated.
The first step is to get a fresh tree. When you’re out in the tree lot picking out your tree, bend the little branch tips to make sure they are supple, not brittle. Beware of spruce trees which are notorious for falling apart quickly once they’re cut and brought inside.
Next, be sure to make a fresh cut on the base of the tree right before you bring it inside. This is so important because the tree has sucked air into the bottom-most cells of the trunk and it is also clogged with dirt. Even if the tree is placed in water, it can’t absorb it because the first cells at the base are clogged with dirt and air.
The fresh cut made at the tree lot is fine if you’re going to rush home and get the tree into water within an hour. If it will be longer than an hour, you should get it into a bucket of water in the garage or make your own fresh cut on the tree at home.
Make sure that your tree stand is clean before you put your tree into it. If your tree stand is like mine, it spends most of its time in the shed gathering dust. If you don’t clean this dust, it will mix with the water the tree is absorbing and clog up those all important cells that you just exposed at the base of the trunk when you made your fresh cut. When you place the tree into the stand, fill the stand with very hot water. Hot water is absorbed more quickly than cold water so the tree will rehydrate as quickly as possible. You don’t need to use hot water every time you add water; just the first time. Make sure that the tree stand always has water in it. If you let it run dry, the tree will suck air into the bottom cells again and it won’t be able to absorb water unless another fresh cut is made. And that isn’t likely to happen once the tree is decorated. Remember: Fresh Tree, Fresh Cut and Fresh Hot Water.
One reason a cut tree can lose needles quickly is that it was transported when the roads have been salted. If you have to transport your tree on your car’s roof when salt spray is a problem, make sure you hose the salt off when you get it home. Nothing sucks the moisture out of a Christmas Tree quicker than a layer of salt on the needles and branches.
The symbolism and use of trees as decorations at this time of year are far older than many of us suspect. It is known, for instance, that pre-Christian Romans displayed decorated evergreens (oak trees which are evergreen in that part of the world) during their solstice celebration, Saturnalia.. They lit the tree with candles and often topped the tree with a sun symbol. The ancient Celts of the British Isles also ornamented oak trees with apples and candles to offer thanks to the sun during the solstice period.
The evergreen tree as the tree of choice for solstice celebrating appears to have its origins in the Christianizing of the Germanic tribes of Eastern Europe. Some of the earliest accounts tell of St. Boniface dedicating the fir tree to the Christ child with the oath, “You are the light of the world, a tree ever green” to counter the sacred oak of Odin in the eighth century.
Hundreds of years passed until the tradition of decorating evergreen trees at Christmas became common. It wasn’t until 1841 when King Albert displayed a decorated evergreen tree in his palace that the tradition took hold in English speaking countries.