It has been said that the world does not lack for wonders; what it can and does suffer from is our lack of ability to wonder. As a little girl, few things awoke my sense of wonder as much as the Christmas tree that stood in our hall each Christmas. I hasten to stress that the tree was far from being an artistic masterpiece; it was more of a ramshackle assemblage of every child’s rather wonkily-made ornaments; clumps of tinsel; bags of chocolate pennies (these disappeared extremely fast); erratically arranged angel hair; rather garish lights; and a papier-maché star that was usually lopsided. Still, to my young eyes it was an object of deep wonder.

Perhaps the presence of evergreen trees in our homes stirs something ancient within us about our bond with trees and with the natural world. Time out of mind, our forebears on this planet have worshipped evergreens, from the days of the Ancient Egyptians and perhaps from even earlier. Evergreens don’t just endure the winter months; they also remind us that we can choose to see death is a beginning as well as an ending. The old year dies, and out of the darkness the New Year is born. It’s not surprising, then, that the Christmas tree tradition started, according to legend, with a Christian revolutionary: it was Martin Luther who, in 1536, was struck by the beauty of a group of evergreens in the snow as he was walking through a wood in the depths of winter. This sight inspired him to bring a fir tree indoors and decorate it with candles for his young family. The idea took hold of the popular imagination and within a few decades, the Christmas tree had become an integral part of festivities in Germany. It travelled to England with Prince Albert, who arranged for one to be put up in Windsor Castle in 1841, and the custom is thought to have travelled to the USA with German immigrants.

 

For me, the decorating of Christmas trees still casts a spell and inspires a sense of wonder. My family tree is not yet in place, but the tree in the Oxford studio is a captivating combination of simplicity and sparkles, festooned as it is with the simple stars, birds and trees that children have been making in the past weeks from our templates.

In my home city of Bath, Christmas this year has become ‘knit-mas’ with a marvellous array of knitted ornaments on the tree by the Assembly Rooms – what would Jane Austen have thought? Inspired by these examples, surely I can find the time to take out my scissors and knitting needles and create a few unique, hand-crafted ornaments for this year’s family tree?

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