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The Presence of Trees in Holiday Traditions

The Presence of Trees in Holiday Traditions | Alabama Sawyer

December 22, 2021

Most people tend to overlook trees as just being there; however, trees actually play an important part in a variety of holidays all around the world. From Tu BiShvat to Bodhi Day to Christmas, trees hold significance in religions around the world. Read on to learn more about the presence of trees on holidays around the world.

Arbor Day (April 29, 2022)

Directly celebrating trees, Arbor Day encourages people around the world to plant trees on the last Friday of April. While many may believe the holiday originated in the United States, the first planting festival was organized in Mondoendo, Spain, in 1594 (they still plant lime and horse-chestnut trees today). Furthermore, many historians consider the first modern Arbor Day to have taken place in Villanueva de la Sierra (another Spanish town) in 1805. In the United States, Nebraska news editor J. Sterling Motion held the first Arbor Day on April 10, 1872, organizing the planting of one million trees in his state. The idea quickly spread throughout the world, with numerous countries creating their form of a tree-planting holiday in the 19th and 20th centuries. While most states in the U.S. (except Delaware) had state Arbor Days by 1902, the United States wouldn’t make it a federal holiday until 1970. Since its adoption, more and more people are planting trees, including sustainable urban trees.

Earth Day (April 22, 2022)

Many people confuse Arbor Day and Earth Day as being the same holiday, likely because they’re so close together (ex. Arbor Day landed on April 24th in 2020, while Earth Day is always on April 22nd). Furthermore, both holidays were established in 1970. However, while Arbor Day focuses exclusively on trees, Earth Day is about helping the environment in general. Luckily, trees are commonly part of Earth Day’s focus, such as The Canopy Project which looks to plant trees across the globe. Since 2010, EarthDay.org has planted millions of trees to restore Earth’s natural balance, replacing trees that have been cut down by the agricultural and lumber industries. If you want to get in on The Canopy Project and celebrate Arbor Day (we don’t mind if you want to kill two birds with one stone), check out our One for One Tree Kit that lets you plant a tree while we donate to plant another tree in an area where it’s needed.

Maple Days (March-April 2022)

This one isn’t really on a singular day (although, National Maple Syrup Day is December 17th). However, numerous towns, states and provenances in the United States and Canada hold maple syrup days during the spring. Canada, as the primary producer of maple syrup, has numerous festivals, with the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival (March 2022), which only lasts a single day, attracting visitors from across the globe. Thousands of people visit the small, quaint town of Elmira, Ontario to learn more about maple syrup production as well as taste or use products derived from the sugary sap, including candies, soap and syrup. Want a little bit longer time with maple goodness? The Maple Capital Festival in New Brunswick (April 2022) provides four days of sugary goodness, including syrup tastings that let you taste different maples directly from the tree. The best part? Restaurants showcase maple in a variety of their dishes, allowing visitors to see how maple syrup can become a primary ingredient for a variety of dishes. 

Tu BiShvat (January 17, 2022)

While Tu BiShvat is now usually treated as an Israeli Earth Day, the holiday comes from a vivid and long history. While some celebrated the holiday on January 1st, most people today celebrate it a few days later. Followers traditionally feast on fruits and nuts, looking at them as a symbolic bringer of life. Many will eat up to ten different items, divided into three categories: hard and inedible exteriors with soft insides (pistachios, oranges, bananas), soft exteriors with a hard pit (apricots, olives, dates) and fruits eaten whole (figs, berries). By eating these items in a specific order, Jewish followers believe they’re making a connection with the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. However, while many believers follow the Tu BiShvat seder feasting rules, the modern-day version of the festival focuses more on the planting of trees and environmental activism.

Christmas (December 25, 2022)

Alright, we’re going to keep this as brief as possible. Christmas trees are derived from ancient religions where trees held spiritual meaning. For example, many Romans hung evergreen boughs in their window and doorways to ward off evil spirits and celebrate the fact evergreen trees didn’t die during winter months (looked at as a metaphor for everlasting life). However, the most famous use of evergreens outside of Christianity is with the Pagans. Pagan followers would hang valuables, food and symbolic décor on evergreens in preparation for the Winter Solstice. In the 16th century, the first Christmas trees as we think of them were used in Germany. While German immigrants brought Christmas trees to England and the United States in the 17th century, the décor staple didn’t take off until Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were sketched with a Christmas tree in the Illustrated London News. The Christmas tree took off quickly, with most families in the U.S. and England adopting them for their celebrations by the 1890s.

Bodhi Day (January 10, 2022)

Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) abandoned his hedonistic lifestyle and sat beneath a Bodhi tree to find enlightenment. After his experience, he crafted the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path. The Bodhi tree, a sacred fig in the Ficus family, is celebrated as helping Buddha find the way to true enlightenment. Today, Buddhists around the world decorate Ficus trees with beads, multi-colored light and ornaments. Some families will meditate under their tree during Bodhi Day to reflect on Buddha’s teachings.

Whether looking to increase sustainability or due to religious holidays, trees hold significance in countries and religions around the world. Regardless of what you celebrate, celebrating trees never goes out of style.