Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Flowering fruit tree branches as Christmas trees

Although fir trees were the most popular, small cherry or apricot trees were planted in pots, or branches were cut and put in water so the blossoms appeared during the holiday.  The picture of a flowering tree decorated with ornaments and candles is from 1790 Nuremberg Germany.

"It lies in the nature of the Yule festival that the tree which graces it must be of the cuniferous tribe, for, at that time, all other trees in the forest are bare. But, for all that, it seems that in many places people tried, and often succeeded, in having trees with foliage and blossoms at Christmas-time.

We still possess an etching by Joseph Keller [below], entitled Christbescherens, oder der frohliche Morgen" (Christmas Gifts, or the Happy Morning), which must have been executed about the year 1790 at Nuremberg. This drawing shows us, in the corner of a room, a tree in the full splendour of its foliage, hung with ornaments just like those used to-day, and decorated with candles, two of which are borne by an angel suspended from the centre of the tree. 

This shows that foliage-trees must have been used formerly. There is a report from Nordlingen relating to about the same time and place. It is the autobiography of the painter, Albrecht Adam, who was born in Nordlingen in 1786. He says: "In Nordlingen we don't have the dark fir-tree for Christmas; instead of that a small cherry or apricot-tree is planted, months before, in a pot, and placed in the corner of the room. Generally these trees are covered with blossoms at Christmas-time, and fill up the whole corner of the room. This is looked upon as a great ornament, which certainly adds much to the beauty of the Christmas-festival. One family vies with the other, and the one who has the finest blossoms on their tree is very proud of it."

The custom of having these kinds of trees does not seem isolated. In Austrian Silesia, the peasant women to this day sally forth at twelve o'clock at night on St. Andrew's Day to pluck a branch of the apricot-tree, which is put in water so that it may flower at Christmas-time With this flowering branch they go to the Christmas Mass and it gives them the faculty of discerning all the witches whilst the clergyman is saying the blessing; each witch is seen carrying a wooden pail on her head. In some parts of Austria, every member of the family cuts a branch of cherry, apricot, or pear-tree on the day of St. Barbara. Poor people offer them for sale under the name of "Barbara branches". In order that each may recognise their own branch, they are all marked, and then put into a dish with water, and placed on the stove. The water is renewed every second day. About Christmas-time, white blossoms burst forth, and the one whose branch blooms first or best may expect some good luck in the following year. In the Tyrol they even try to force a cherry-tree into blossom in the open air. The first Thursday in Advent they put lime into the ground underneath a cherry-tree, and then it flowers at Yuletide. Near Meran it is customary to put dry branches into water, so that they may flower at Christmas-time.

Folklore, Volume 3  “German Christmas and the Christmas-Tree"     London: 1892   edited by Joseph Jacobs

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©2017 Patricia Bixler Reber

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