What she said at a recent press conference celebrating the city’s 12 aboriginal families becoming homeowners though the Manitoba Real Estate Association (MREA)-established Manitoba Tipi Mitawa program, struck me as intriguing and quite appropriate for this time of year. Vickie Bushie said this will be the first year that she will be able to have a “real tree” to commemorate Christmas, because Tipi Mitawa made it possible for her to become a homeowner.
“They aren’t allowed in a rental place,” said Bushie. “I grew up with a real tree in my family home with my parents, so that’s something I wanted to give my kids.
“This is the first Christmas in this home, so instead of all going over Christmas Day to the parents’ house and to each grandparents’, we’re staying home and we’re inviting the whole family to our house — and they’re all excited.”
Five Tipi Mitawa (translated from Dakota, it means “my house”) families received a “real” Christmas tree that was delivered by representatives of the MREA and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC).
What was intriguing was the importance Bushie allocated to the Christmas tree she received and what it came to symbolize — a simple tree, which so many take for granted, had validated her transformation into a homeowner. As a renter it was a prohibited item that landlords cited to be a fire hazard, but as a homeowner, she can have one; just as she can now paint or perform any other renovations without seeking a landlord’s prior approval. In keeping with the meaning behind the old adage, “Her new home has become her own castle.”
At first glance, it seems to be such a trivial part of homeownership, but Bushie has identified the tree as representing what had been missing from her young adult life. It was something she had grown up to appreciate as a hallmark that said the most important word to her — family.
Bushie is in good company when she allots a special significance to a Christmas tree in her home.
In its earliest role in pagan mythology, an evergreen tree symbolized eternal life. After all, the evergreen didn’t shed its needles in the winter. It provided a splash of living green at a time when winter’s bleakness could have dominated the landscape.
It was the custom of the Romans during the winter solstice celebration of the Saturnalia — named after Saturnus, the god of agriculture — to decorate their homes with evergreen boughs, lit lamps and exchange gifts. The evergreen
symbolized the return of better days, as the solstice marked the time when the sun began its journey southward in the sky. It was a time of renewal.
In Europe, Celtic priests called Druids used evergreens in their winter solstice rituals. Holly and mistletoe were symbols of eternal life, while evergreen branches above a doorway were said to keep away evil spirits.
From these rituals, the Christmas tree’s modern significance slowly came into being.
The first evidence of an indoor Christian Christmas trees, which were decorated with sweets for children and apprentices, is found in guild halls
Reports from 1441, 1442, 1510 and 1514, record that the Brotherhood of Blackhoods erected a tree for the Christmas season in their guild houses. On the last night of the celebrations, the tree was taken to the town square where members of the brotherhood danced around it. A Bremen guild chronicle of 1570 reported that a small tree was decorated with “apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers” for the benefit of guild members’ children on Christmas Day.
According to one legend, in 1536, German Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, on a crisp Christmas Eve was walking through a snow-covered pine forest near his home in Wittenberg when he was struck by the beauty of the stars shining through the trees. He set up a little fir tree in his home to duplicate what he saw in nature, decorating it with lighted candles to honour Jesus Christ and remind his children of the heavens whence he came.
In 1605, an anonymous writer reported that the inhabits of Strasburg, Germany, “set up fir trees in the parlours ... and hung thereon roses cut out of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets, etc.”
In 1761, “good Queen Charlotte, the German-born wife of George III of Great Britain, set up a decorated and candle-lit Christmas yew branch, a tradition from her home at Mecklenburg-Strelitz at Windsor Castle. While this display caused quite a stir, the queen decided to increase the thrill for the children by erecting an entire yew tree in the middle drawing room of the castle.
Dr. John Watkins, who attended the Christmas Eve party, wrote that from the tree’s branches “hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged; the whole illuminated by small wax candles. Once the company had admired the tree, “each child obtained a portion of the sweets it bore, together with a toy, and then all retreated home quite delighted.”
From this beginning, Christmas trees became all the rage for the English upper-class and became of a focal point for children’s Christmas celebrations. By the time of her death in 1818, Queen Charlotte’s Christmas tree tradition was firmly established in England.
The English masses adopted the Christmas tree after the Illustrated London News, Cassell’s Magazine and The Graphic began to show and describe the annual Christmas trees erected by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
As a child, Queen Victoria had been delighted by Queen Charlotte’s trees. In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the 13-year-old wrote: “After dinner ... we went into the drawing-room near the dining-room ... There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents were placed round the trees ...”
Christmas trees have a long tradition in Canada, dating back to 1781. In that year, Brunswick soldiers stationed in Sorel, Québec, to protect the British colony from an American invasion were treated to a Christmas party by General Friedrich Adolf Riedesel and his wife, the Baroness of Riedesel. The soldiers beheld a fir tree decorated with candles and fruits.
As in the case of Bushie, the Christmas tree was a symbolic reminder to the soldiers of Christmas celebrations in their homes. As Bushie so eloquently said, she grew up with a “real” Christmas tree in her parents’ home, so it was something she wanted to “give to her kids.” A new home and her first “real” tree have made Christmas a special time of celebration for the Bushie family.