Apparently Christmas is now about garlands – wreaths are for funerals!
Never mind the term , the volunteers have been using their creative skills to deck the V C with festive spirit, and support the garland making workshops.
Plants are integral to Christian celebrations at Christmas – it is the only time of year when the Trust choose to adorn the place with plants from the Estate. A place that isn’t strewn with something evergreen and glossy just doesn’t feel festive. Christmas Eve is traditionally the date on which to deck the halls, and bringing evergreens indoors any time before that is said to produce quarrels.
When you grab your secateurs and head out for that desirable foliage your thoughts may be firmly on Christmas Eve – but an older and quieter moment for celebration precedes it: the winter solstice on December 21 , also called Yule or midwinter. The plants that we now associate with Christmas are in fact remnants of this older celebration of the longest night and the shortest day.
That may sound gloomy, but ancient midwinter celebrations were bountiful, fire-filled and optimistic, concerned with the cycling of the seasons and the returning of the light. Although it does not feel like it now, after the solstice the days begin to get incrementally longer, warmth starts to return, and the growing season slowly turns from faint memory to pressing reality.
At a time when all around seems dead, evergreens become integral to this festival of continuity and reassurance. The Victorians believed in everlasting life and planted up their graveyards with laurel, yew and pine. Berries represent fertility, and so were also revered at this most barren of moments. Holly was thought a female plant and mistletoe male, and they were often hung together, hence the kissing. Christmas garlands themselves are also extremely ancient, dating back at least to Roman times when they decorated homes during Saturnalia, the Roman festival of midwinter. So garlands may well have been around at Ashridge some two thousand years ago ornamenting the nearby Roman villa at Moneybury Hill.
There is a restrained feeling with the decor and piped music at the V C – all very tasteful with the managers’ guide book ensuring that the places are all singing from the same song sheet. You can tell when you are at a NT place as soon as you enter the building. The Trust is aiming to become plastic free by 2022, so no more plastic decorations. The real Christmas tree and floral plant materials are all sourced locally which helps to reduce their carbon footprint and are all biodegradable – a fake fir from faraway China has the same carbon footprint as a car journey of 135 miles!
The garland making workshops run by Janet are many-splendoured things and are very popular – always sold out – again using plant material gleaned from the Estate.
A very merry Christmas to us all, and Lia Leendertz in particular.