12/22/2018

Praising the tree - The twenty-second door


Today I'll present a tradition I have been hearing of for many years, but never experienced myself. Somehow I keep thinking it's more alive in rural areas, probably because the people who told me about it were from villages.
This tradition is praising the tree. It developed in Swabia and is mostly known in parts of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria today.

So what does praising the tree mean?
Exactly what it says. In the time between Christmas and Epiphany people, often in a group, go visit others and praise their Christmas tree which is then rewarded by the host, with a shot for example like "Obstler" which is kind of a fruit schnapps, and maybe some Christmas cookies to soak up the schnapps. The more the group gets around, the more trees they praise and the more they are, erm, well, you get the idea ...
In one post about this tradition I read it's not a real tradition, it's just people who want to get drunk, but I don't think that's completely fair although in these days it may be a reason for some to do it.
One theory is the social aspect. Praising the tree gave people a way to meet others, even those they hadn't known that well before. Another is that Swabians who have the reputation of working very hard simply didn't have the time to maintain social contacts all year and so left it for what we call "between the years" (there are other names for it, too, like "The Twelve Days" in English).

The visitors were taken to the "good room" which was decorated and warm, and where the tree was standing. Swabians also have the reputation of being somewhat grumpy and stingy, but once you are inside, hospitality is a big thing for them, so when visitors said something nice about the tree - honestly, if you come somewhere, wouldn't you say "what a lovely tree"? - it was a matter of pride to offer them something.

"What a lovely tree" wasn't enough, though. From one article I gathered that there can be rules how to praise the tree.
It has to be a real tree, no artificial one (which means I'm not going to need a bottle of Obstler ;-)).
There has to be a nativity.
The tree has to have some kind of topper.
There have to be some handmade decorations, for example stars made of straw.
Electric lights are not allowed, only real wax candles.
There has to be water in the stand.
I doubt those rules are really still important or there wouldn't be that many trees left you could praise!

What happens if the tree doesn't have anything praiseworthy? No problem. It's so much easier to like a tree after a few Obstler, but you can always find something. A tree that doesn't have many branches? "How wonderful you have that much space to hang the baubles!" A tree that's crooked? "That's real nature!" A tree as prickly as a cactus? "Such a smart idea, no one will steal it from you!" A really small tree? "How clever not to spend all the money on the tree, that way you could spend more on the beautiful decoration!" All you need is a little creativity! :-D

I can't do a post without a picture. I would have loved to show our tree of 1979 (picture with a terrible red tint) or really old pictures (I had to respect my siblings' privacy and there's no picture of me with a Christmas tree), so here's one of my sister's first trees in her own place, in 1987. It was fun to see how decoration changed over the years because she kept adding to it.
You are welcome to praise it, but sorry, I have no idea how to get the shots to you ;-)

 

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