Old tradition that predates the Christmas tree includes hanging
and honoring a holiday branch. We began to honor this old custom
from the need to save room on the floor. Soon we developed an
appreciation of looking up into lights and decorations, and
realized this as a way we could enjoy plants we love as well as
make better use of material cut from our own gardens. It also
seemed like fun to honor a different species each year.
We've hung white pine, red oak,
beech and apple so far. (Click to see them.)
This year a river birch (Betula nigra) presented itself
as our Christmas branch.
Healthy and still young at 30 years, it had been placed by
someone misapprised of its potential (70' or more) and long term
appearance. (After 15 years or so, the lower trunk bark is no
longer peeling and cinnamon cream; only younger wood way up high
still has that glow.)
Below, left: A 25' limb from the top comes home. Janet had
to bundle the twig end and bend it back on itself so it wouldn't
Right: The butt end gets strung up to its hook first, then
the twig end. At first the limb dangles from strong cord, then each
point gets hitched a bit higher until it's close enough to the
ceiling to be snugged in place with wire.
Below, left: The twig end remains bundled during the
raising. (Blue arrow.) The limb is relatively bare along half its
length, very twiggy at the end. Eventually, one branch from the
twig end will come off and be positioned as if it grew from lower.
Above, right: One of the things we've learned in hanging
branches this way is that the spread of branches is the result of
living attachments and dynamic force in the tree. When simply hung,
the branch wants to let its heftiest side limbs dangle vertically.
(It hangs as it wishes, inset photo.) We must pivot the limb
(arrow)and attach it at three or more points to spread it
Below: Once up, with twig end unbundled, we prune for less
Below: Then we light it and decorate. This year white lights
and gold bangles are wishes for hope and prosperity.
Last year's branch (an apple, in red and green for
and fertility) comes down just before this year's goes
up. We cut that well seasoned wood for kindling for
friends' fires. Tradition as old as the hanging of a
holiday branch as it that it's good luck to start the
year's fire from a bit of the old Yule log.
Right, the apple branch that spanned our living room bundled
neatly into just a few bunches of fragrant burning dry