Reclaiming the Christmas tree as an animist tradition

What is the strongest element of the traditions around Christmas? Probably the Christmas tree. And yet it should be clear with even a moments’ thought that the habit of putting up a Christmas tree did not originate in the middle east, and had nothing to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus.

So then why do we do it? Why the urge to reconnect to nature at the time of greatest darkness? Maybe the answer is that in the dark, the boundaries weaken and we feel the strongest connection to the non-human world surrounding us. That would explain why we literally decide to bring the spirit of the wild forest into our house.

For can it truly be, as is often claimed, the fact that we need to see the colour green to remind us that spring will come back one day? Well, maybe. But we can equally see that greenness when it resides outside or in the forest. That somehow does not seem to be sufficient explanation.

Even if insufficient, it is still worth considering this notion for a moment. Why do we long for spring so much? Why do we need this strong confirmation that life will survive? And why, if so, has nobody ever made Christmas into a holiday that is purely about human life, and human resilience?

Because it is a time of year when we become aware, in the deepest core of our being, of our interdependence. If the green of nature would not come back, all of us would die, and probably soon. And there is a part of our subconscious that is still acutely aware of it, even for us humans living in the modern age of computers and virtual reality.

But let us go back to our earlier question now. Why bring that promise of greenness inside, in the form of Christmas trees and mistletoe? And why do we still actively worship the green spirit? (Or really, what else do you think you are doing by decorating a tree? )

In winter we are naturally most disconnected from the world around us. We spend nearly all of our time indoors, and that brings out a longing, a hope that we will find the lost part of our soul again. We simply cannot be complete in a purely human world, as we are hard-wired for connection.

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And so I would invite you to become more conscious of this when you put up your Christmas tree this year: as you bring in your tree, actively invite in the spirits of the forest, and ask them to share their blessings with you. Make the decorating into a ritual: honour the wild spirit within and without, and pray that its presence may help you survive the challenges of the dark time. Then, at the winter solstice, be sure to share your celebration of the return of the light with the Forest, in a conscious remembering of how much you depend on its gifts.

I will finish this essay by giving the final word to a Christmas tree:

Forest is a family. This is a feeling that does not ever exclude any from its welcome. That is why we are happy to share in your celebrations, and are happy to extend our blessings to humanity. But with a blessing always comes a lesson: I am forest, and you are human. We connect in the dark of winter. You are the child and I am your dream. Be sure to still remember me once that dream is over, and give me the same spirit of love and protection as I have shared with you.

And most important of all: never, ever stop dreaming…


Text and images by Beith.

Beith is a druid who likes to wander through the forest, inviting the trees to be her teachers in life. She also runs a personal blog about her druid journey, that can be found at wandering-the-woods.com.

In real life she’s a mathematician, trying to walk the boundary between the rational and the irrational.

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