Churchyard Nature Note with Andrew Tompsett

December - January 2016

Deck the halls with boughs of holly

As Christmas approaches we begin to think about decorations we will need in home and church for the festive season. Holly is our long-term favourite the spines and blood-red berries reminding us of Christ’s Crucifixion with the dark evergreen leaves denoting His Resurrection and Ascension. Other evergreens, ivy and mistletoe have generally been avoided for their Druidic associations even though many churches with ancient Yews are sited on old Druid sites.

When, as often happens, birds eat many holly berries by Christmas- time, shoots of Skimmia with its bright red berries, less attractive to birds will survive and are useful especially outdoors and on graves.

We may look upon Christmas trees as traditional Christmas decorations but their popularity in this country only arose after 1841 when Prince Albert brought one from Germany and decorated it at Windsor for Queen Victoria. The photographs shown in Victorian newspapers resulted in it becoming fashionable!. It was a tradition that had long been observed in Germany and other northern European countries where fir trees of many kinds abound and it was Martin Luther (1483-1546) the German Protestant reformer who first brought the Spruce tree indoors and decorated it with candles.(rather risky?) Subsequently trees were ( wisely!) decorated with sweets and fruits wrapped in gold leaf.

The Spruce is a large family of evergreen conifers. Our specific Christmas one, the Norway spruce (Picea abies) is by far the most popular and is grown on a large scale to produce the small conical trees we require. Two large spruces grow near the tower in our churchyard. These are the Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) a native of Alaska. It is an important timber tree but would be unwelcome indoors as its needles are strong and sharp. In recent years, possibly due to central heating, the needles of spruce tend to drop off in a warm, dry atmosphere and other species are coming onto the market. Some of these are softer-leaved firs but they are more expensive than Norway spruce.

The most popular and well-known Norway spruce appears each year in Trafalgar square. This giant gift of the inhabitants of Oslo it is given in thanks for British help given to Norway in the Second World War. Here in Illogan, carols will be sung around a tree in the centre of the village and in our church the sparkling tree will bring joy to all who come to the Christingle and other Christmas services.

May your all enjoy a Very Happy Christmas!

Note that two large ash trees in the churchyard are being felled for safety reasons by local contractors.