In the cold + dark of winter, we are in desperate need of hope. But, I dare say that the ancient Celtic + Nordic folk of the north needed it more than we could possible imagine today. It’s no wonder, then, that since everything around them seemed dead, bare, empty, and hopeless, the evergreen tree, standing tall + strong + green became a symbol of deep hope. A symbol that ancient people relied on to provide them something to hold onto in the hopeless, never-ending dark that surrounded them. Bringing light + color + fragrance into their homes.
Tradition has it that ancient pagans used evergreens to celebrate the coming return of light. They brought them into their homes to honor + revere them. as sacred, holy images of the truth of the cycle of the season and eternal life. The evergreen, like holly + mistletoe, were thought to have magical powers, guarding homes against the dark spirits of winter + honoring the gods + goddesses of nature. Of course, the evergreen has special magic because it stayed green all winter long.
It may seem counterintuitive to cut down a tree, thus killing it, to celebrate its life. But, I understand it to be a sort of sacrifice for the ancients – coming from a mindful, close relationship of living in harmony with nature, and in line with their mystical beliefs of darkness and light and nature. Cutting an evergreen down + adorning it with other handmade gifts + offerings of nature was a sacred ritual, not taken lightly.
Wreaths + bushels of evergreen branches were hung on doors + above entrances to ward off evil spirits. And needles + pinecones were burned as incense, offering a bit of fresh air + spreading protective spiritual energy in cold, dark, stagnant homes.
Today, I wonder how mindfully we approach our tree hunting + tree decorating…
For me, tree hunting + decorating was a sacred family ritual. We didn’t discuss it as such, but it was a beautiful time that we shared every year, after our American Thanksgiving holiday was done. Traveling together to a farm, spending hours walking around to find the tree that spoke to us, and finally deciding on the one to take home… it was quite idyllic. And it has been even into my adult years.
Now, across the miles, it’s harder to share this tradition with my parents + my brother, but we still gather around the tree decked with old, handmade, homemade trinkets + memories. And Lina + I have a tiny, fake tree that we put in the corner of our home. It’s not so personal, but it is simple. Nevertheless, the green stands tall in the corner, adorned with lights, crystals, wood, fabric, and a star on top. Symbolizing nature, family, and hope – those things that are most important to us.
You know, in my opinion, no matter what tradition, religion, or myth we believe in (or not), the medicine of the evergreen is the same. And it is exactly the medicine we, like our ancient ancestors, need.
Trees, in their own right, are beautiful symbols of the cycle of life + the rhythm of nature. They reveal the secrets of the mystery of growth from a seed to a strong, sturdy, old tree. They show us the meaning of being grounded + rooted, even as storms + winds come and go. And they remind us the importance of release, surrender, and letting go so that we can be born anew.
But, it’s hard to wait in the dark for that rebirth. It’s hard to believe when it all feels so cold, so empty, and so dark. We do not want to follow the rhythm of nature down into the dark, bare, cold winter. It literally is hard to hold on + to trust when winter comes. There are days that it feels like it will never be light again. And it’s mind-blowing to even try to imagine that summer exists – and that it will actually return.
So, the evergreen offers us the medicine that we so desperately need right now.
This is one time that we do not have to imagine anything. Nature literally offers us the antidote to our dark winter blues. And, even though we don’t think much of warding off malevolent spirits with our trees + wreaths of green, in some ways we still carry forward the traditions of our ancestors. To soak up the medicine of the evergreen, all we need to do is be a bit more mindful of these ancient ways. And allow ourselves a few moments to reflect + connect with the meanings of the tree that stays green all winter long.
Hope. The rhythm of nature. The return of the light. New life in the darkness of winter.
This is the season of waiting. And it is difficult. But, the beauty of the eternal evergreen tree, keeping her dark green, earthy color all year long, year after year, is present + a part of our winter holiday celebrations to give us the medicine we need to carry on. To not give up. To keep believing + trusting.
To find a way to soak in the medicine of the evergreen, I plan to walk among the trees all winter long. I will gather branches + needles, and I may even create a bunch to burn as an offering, or as incense to clear my space + call in the magical energy of the evergreen. But, most importantly, with every evergreen tree that I pass this winter season, I will remember the medicine + magic that this living, green, strong, persistent tree offers to us all. A reminder that life + hope remain… even in the middle of the dark.
May the hope of the evergreen brighten your cold, dark nights. xoxo. liz.
the medicine of midwinter series
week 1 // the medicine of the dark
week 2 // the medicine of the deer