Hark! ‘Tis the season! Pop open a carton of eggnog and let the spirit of the holidays fill your home. Soon you’ll be surrounded by an urban landscape of snowmen, Santa Clauses, and twinkling lights.
Everyone seems to have their own unique traditions, but there always seem to be staples that tie every year together; family, friends, and food.
But what else tells us it’s the holiday season? The nip in the air? My dad angrily putting up lights? Perhaps. But when I really think about it, nature plays one of the largest roles in filling me with yuletide cheer. From mistletoes to evergreens, it just isn’t the season without a dash of the outdoors brought indoors. While modern adaptations of the holidays continue to evolve, some traditions always seem to stick around.
The humble evergreen tree. While many today choose artificial trees, the idea is all the same; bringing a tree into your home and adding a touch of personal decoration to its otherwise bland needles. But why? The act of bringing an evergreen tree into our home dates to ancient civilizations. Many small religions around the European region celebrated nature and the elements, particularly in December. So, a tree was brought inside and left completely bare. To them, changing seasons meant reason to celebrate the holidays as we know it.
This tradition progressed over time and as Christianity became more popular in Europe, it befell the people to decorate the tree with symbols of their religion. Thus, a modern tree is born! This centerpiece of holiday décor stands proudly in homes across the globe every year, but what about the supporting cast?
Yes, the holidays wouldn’t be complete without accidentally wandering under a mistletoe and standing there awkwardly while someone shouts at you to kiss someone. But did you know that certain mistletoe species are native to Indiana? That’s right! Now you know that the awkward kissing encounter described is not only limited to the comfort of your own home, but even by chance in the middle of a woods.
Mistletoes are parasitic plants on predominantly oak and apple trees here in Indiana. Growing in the treetops above your head, they zap sap from the tree while soaking up sun. While the mistletoe has storied mythological roots in many civilizations, it was the ancient Romans who would hang this plant above their doorways for luck (and the occasional smooch) to celebrate the mid-December festival, Saturnalia.
The holidays are different for everybody. Different celebrations, traditions, and meanings. Just about the only constant within the rich and varied history of our traditions is nature and its significance in our lives. Changing seasons bring cause for celebration, the natural world brought indoors to make us feel warm and comfortable, reminding us of home.
Whatever your holiday plans are this season, it is easy to get caught up in the hustle. It is important to take time and observe the world around you and realize the ancient roots of the traditions that surround you. It is a hardwired behavior of humans to appreciate and awe at the wonderment that is the nature of the seasons.
Photo by John Knox
Jake Gamble is the Stewardship Manager for Red-tail Land Conservancy. Impassioned by land conservation, he strives to protect and preserve the natural quality of Indiana while inspiring others to do the same.