When I was a little girl my Dad and his best friend owned a Christmas Tree Farm. Every year in early December we would load up into the back of my Dad’s old green truck and head out to get our tree. It is usually cold in North Florida December so we would be bundled up and getting to enjoy hot chocolate. It was a magical experience for me. It was almost like being in a magic forest where fairy tale characters lived. Looking up at those trees was overwhelming; I can still see the outline of the top branches against the purple sky as the sun faded. My sister and I (with the help of our mom) would pick the tree and watch as our Dad cut it down, then we would head home and decorate!
Thankfully, I have been able to recreate this experience for my children. A few years ago my husband read about a Christmas Tree farm not far from our home where you can cut your own tree. This was before we had kids; so the two of us plus our dog headed out to get a tree. As soon as we started hiking among the trees the memories came flooding back. It had probably been 20 years since I’d been on Christmas Tree farm. I immediately recognized the trees, they were the same as the ones from my Dad’s long gone farm.
They were Florida Sand Pines (F.S.P.) to which I have developed a bond! I love bringing one home and sharing it with my family and friends. Many Floridians have never heard of a F.S.P. and are usually pretty excited when I share about them. They are native to Florida and grow in our sandy soil. The needles are very long, and their color is vibrant bright green. They have a very look different look from the Fraser Furs and Douglas Furs imported from the North. Most people find the Northern trees more “Christmasy”. But, not me!
The Christmas Tree tradition actually began in ancient Germany as a pagan practice. The ancient Goths and Vandals would celebrate the Winter Solstice by going out into the forest and cutting down an evergreen pine tree, bringing it home, and setting it up in their home. The idea was that the tree symbolized the coming spring. That even in the dark of winter life would be reborn in the spring, a pagan symbol of hope. When Christianity became the dominate religion in Europe early church leaders aligned many Christian holidays and feast days with Pagan holidays and feast days. Christmas was aligned with the winter solstice celebration and in Germany the Christmas Tree became a symbol of eternal life- just as Jesus gives his believers eternal life.
Christmas Trees became popular in the English speaking parts of the world during England’s Queen Victoria’s reign. Victoria was a long serving and very popular monarch whose reign spawned the term “Victorian”. She ruled in the late 1800’s. Her beloved husband was a German Prince named Albert. During their marriage they began setting up a Christmas Tree. As mentioned earlier Victoria was very popular and she was a trend setter. Setting up a Christmas Tree became the “thing” to do! The tradition continued to grow and grow and I’m pretty sure every American would agree that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a tree!
So, every year in the spirit of Clark W Griswold my little family treks out into the country to cut down our Sand Pine. To me it is magical, both for my memories and the joy of experiencing the tradition with my husband and children. I also feel good about having a locally grown and native tree in my home! The unique beauty of the F.S.P. is Christmas for me; and I plan to celebrate the season with one for many years to come!
Here are pictures of the tree at the farm: