Evergreens at Christmastime: Decorating a Custom Built Home with Tradition

The scent of pine and decorating homes with evergreen boughs, swag and wreaths are traditional symbols of the Christmas season. The beauty of these greens adorning Wisconsin residences, from modest dwellings to luxury custom homes, undoubtedly adds warmth and cheer during our long winters. For many, the main attraction is the Christmas tree, which has been embraced and uniquely adorned by several cultures and countries around the world. As with many of today’s Christmas traditions, the origin of the Christmas tree dates back to Germany in the 1600s.

Legend has it that Martin Luther first brought a fir tree into the home after admiring the starlight shining through the tree branches upon a walk in the woods, which he attempted to replicate for his family at home by placing candles on the boughs. Yet others contend that today’s Christmas tree was derived from Germanic people in the 1600s combining two customs that had been practiced in different countries around the world: the Paradise Tree (a fir tree decorated with apples, symbolizing the Garden of Eden) and The Christmas Light (a small, pyramid shaped frame decorated with glass balls, tinsel, and a candle on top, symbolizing Christ’s birth illuminating the world).

The Puritan customs of early American settlers shunned any frivolity associated with this sacred Christian holiday, thus Christmas trees were not commonly adopted in America until well into the 19th century. While early German settlers in Pennsylvania brought the tradition to America with them in the mid 18th century, the Christmas tree was amongst the heathen traditions solemnly condemned until the influx of German and Irish immigrants in the 19th century began to dilute the strict Puritan observances.

In both legends of the Christmas tree’s German origins, the fir tree is the type of evergreen specified, likely referring to the European Silver fir, one of the oldest evergreen species in Northern Europe. There are many types of evergreen trees, or conifers, native to Wisconsin displaying great variations in size, color, cones, needles, etc., all of whose boughs are often incorporated into seasonal holiday décor. Wisconsin’s eco-system supports several varietals of Pine, Fir, Cedar and Spruce trees, as well as hemlock, spread throughout the state in various forest and wetlands settings; however, the Fir (Fraser, Balsam), Spruce (White, Colorado Blue) and Pine (White, Scotch) are the types most commonly cultivated for seasonal enjoyment.

In addition to the ornamental tree at Christmas, it is now commonplace to decorate doors, windows, mantles and even banisters with evergreen boughs. A simple wreath or garland stands beautiful on its own or provides a palate for a variety of enhancements, such as bows, bells and berries. Wreaths have symbolic importance to many cultures across the globe, often not associated with the Christmas holiday. In most English speaking countries, however, the wreath is primarily a Christmas or advent decoration, and again were first used by the Lutherans in Germany in the 1600s, with many churches since introducing their own variations. Evergreens in many cultures symbolize strength and life of the earth, and the Christians adapted evergreen wreaths to further symbolize ever-lasting life through Jesus Christ.

Decorating your custom built home with evergreens over the holidays is the embodiment of perpetuating centuries of Christmas tradition. Native greens celebrate our local heritage, pay homage to our cultural and religious origins, and provide a versatile basis for customizing holiday decorations to match either the architectural simplicity or splendor of a custom built home.