Posts Tagged ‘traditions’

What are your winter traditions? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

What are your winter traditions?

Westonbirt_Enchanted_Xmas_credit_Rob_Cousins

Every family follows their own traditions in winter. We polled Westonbirt’s staff and here are some they told us about:

Going on a boat trip every Christmas day to watch brave/crazy people swimming in the sea.

A Welsh grandmother who believed receiving Christmas cards with birds on was bad luck and so burnt every robin, partridge and turtle dove card she received.

To celebrate Chinese new year, one family have a special meal together and exchange gifts of money in red envelopes.

Choosing the ugliest Christmas tree in the shop so that it can still fulfill it’s Christmas destiny.

As a Polish element to Christmas dinner, setting an extra place in case someone in need of food and company turns up on the doorstep.

Bringing the whole family to Westonbirt’s Enchanted Christmas, of course!

What are your family’s winter traditions?

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum
Find out about Westonbirt’s Enchanted Christmas
Visit the forum to share your winter traditions

Why do we have a tree indoors at Christmas time? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Friday, December 9th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

Why do we have a tree indoors at Christmas time?

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Decorating a tree to celebrate Christmas first started over a thousand years ago. Possibly even as early as 754 AD. Records from 1441 tell us that it was traditional in Estonia for a spruce tree to be decorated and placed in a large shared building. On Christmas eve it was moved into the town square. The towns people would then dance around it and finally set it on fire.

By 1781 people were adding real candles to their Christmas trees and by 1882 the first electric lights were used.

Over the years, artificial trees have been made from dyed feathers, brush bristles, aluminium foil and plastic; but the enduring symbol of an evergreen tree surviving in winter lives on.

Another benefit of real Christmas trees is that they give off a fresh citrus scent.

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum
Real Christmas trees from Westonbirt’s Plant Centre

Why would you give frankincense or myrrh as a present? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

Why would you give frankincense or myrrh as a present?

423Western Red Cedar

In the Christian story of the nativity, the wise men give gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the holy family. But what exactly are frankincense and myrrh? And why would they be special presents?

Frankincense and myrrh are both resins from the sap of trees that grow in Africa. Frankincense was used in lots of religious rituals. Burning it repels mosquitoes and so would protect people from malaria and other diseases. Myrrh had medicinal uses as well as religious significance and was just as valuable as gold.

Westonbirt is home to Western Red Cedar, a tree that also has aromatic oils that are very useful to humans.

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

How do you roast chestnuts over an open fire? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

How do you roast chestnuts over an open fire?

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Sweet chestnut trees were introduced to Britain by the Romans and the nuts of these trees are roasted and eaten all across Europe, particularly at Christmas time.

Chestnuts would traditionally have been roasted in a long handled pan or a shovel on the embers of an open fire, after being split partly open. If you don’t have a shovel or an open fire you can still try them at home following this recipe:

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius
2. Cut a slit or a cross into the shells of the chestnuts to let steam escape (and to stop the chestnut going “bang”)
3. Put them on a baking tray
4. Bake in oven for 15 – 20 minutes, allow to cool a little
5. Peel using your fingers and eat – enjoy!

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

How is ivy helpful to wildlife? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

How is ivy helpful to wildlife?

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The Celts in Ireland believed that ivy symbolised determination because of it’s climbing abilities.

Ivy’s flexibility makes it perfect for forming into wreaths which make beautiful winter decorations.

As ivy flowers in autumn it is excellent for wildlife, providing nectar for butterflies, bees and other insects when little else is around.

It’s berries then ripen in late winter and provide food for the blackbirds, fieldfares and thrushes who have already polished off the berries from autumn fruiting trees.

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

Why do we eat chocolate cake shaped like a log? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Monday, December 5th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

Why do we eat chocolate cake shaped like a log?

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A Yule log hasn’t always been made out of chocolate. It was a very real, very large log made of hard wood that was burnt originally by Vikings as part of the winter solstice traditions and later on became part of our Christmas customs.

The biggest log a family could find (sometimes almost a whole tree) would be dragged to the house and lit in the hearth using the remnants of wood kept from the previous years Yule log. Burning it was believed to bring prosperity and protection from evil.

When fireplaces became smaller, people started making chocolate cakes in the shape of logs instead so now you can eat a Yule log instead of burning it!

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

“Halfway out of the dark”, by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

“Halfway out of the dark”
[every planet in the universe celebrates the point from which the sun will shine a little longer each day, Doctor Who, 2010]

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Buddhist, Celtic, Chinese, Christian, Germanic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, Persian, Roman and Slavic cultures all have festivals of light that occur in the late autumn and wintertime.

Winter survival is very important to humans because we first evolved in tropical climates. We are not fully adapted physically to winter in the colder climes but have highly complex strategies to keep ourselves alive in this cold, dark season.

Trees also have survival strategies for winter. Many of our trees are deciduous. Deciduous trees drop their leaves in Autumn and grow new ones in the spring. This protects them from being damaged in winter weather and helps the tree to conserve water.

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

What’s Christmassy about Holly? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

What’s Christmassy about Holly?

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For thousands of years people across Europe have decorated their homes with evergreen branches of trees in wintertime. Evergreen branches are symbols of survival and everlasting life and are especially important during festivals of the winter solstice.

Pagans believed that holly would protect people from lightning and witches. Some Christians associate spiky holly with Jesus’ crown of thorns. Many Pagan solstice traditions changed over time to become Christmas traditions.

Shiny evergreen leaves like those of holly help to reflect light around a room so definitely make the dark winter days seem brighter!

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

Why do people kiss under poisonous berries? by Caroline Bennett, Education Officer

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

As part of Westonbirt’s programme of family activities this winter, Westonbirt’s education team have created a trail that explores winter traditions from around the world. Caroline Bennett, Westonbirt’s Education Officer, researched the trail and uncovered some fascinating facts about the trees and plants which are central to so many of these traditions and beliefs.

Why do people kiss under poisonous berries?

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Before Christianity, Celtic tribes celebrated the winter solstice (the shortest day – 21 Dec), when they believed that the sun was reborn and the new year began.

Mistletoe is a plant that grows on the branches of trees after the seeds are spread there by birds. It has white, poisonous berries and pairs of green leaves.

Pagans living in Britain thousands of years ago believed that mistletoe was magical because it grew without roots. It was felt that hanging it in the entrance to their homes brought health and happiness to all who came through the door. As mistletoe was such a lucky plant to them, kissing underneath it was considered a promise of eternal friendship.

Useful links
More about family activities at Westonbirt
Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum