The Christmas pine-olive-fir-apricot-cypress-fig tree

It was only after living in Canada that I realised how the imagery for some things, like the four seasons, has permeated even places where it was not relevant at all, like, say, the place where I grew up. The funny thing is that I always considered this imagery to be unreal on some level: part of me simply did not imagine that there were actual places in the world where you have snow in winter and crisp, white fir trees with dark branches peeking from under it.

Now that I’ve lived in a place where winter really looks like the winter from the picture books I had growing up, it feels even stranger when I walk through the streets of Aix or Marseilles and see plastic fir trees covered in foam snow, even as I have to take off my coat because I’m starting to sweat. I’ve also always felt a bit sad for all the cut fir trees crammed together on the pavement, in a southern country where they could never hope to last (when I was a child, we used to buy potted fir trees and then try to plant them in the garden, but only one of them survived–it was felled by a gust of wind after nearly twenty years). But we still bought them, because what’s Christmas without a tree? And plastic trees just don’t feel like the real thing. Until this year, then, we bought one doomed fir after another.

But now we’ve found a happier tradition to replace that one with. After all, the end of the year is about new life. This is why we plant wheat on a bed of cotton inside the house and watch it grow all December, why we make nativity scenes using bits of moss and pine twigs to recreate a whole village: Christmas is the celebration of life, of things that will regrow and be reborn, year after year. It’s an absurdity to kill things for Christmas. But we still wanted Christmas trees, so last Wednesday, I got together with my parents to make one tree for each. Here’s the one we made for my father:

And that’s the one for my mother:

Aren’t they lovely? And the best part is that they were both made from branches that were trimmed in the garden, some scrap material lying around, and little else. And they will last for years, no need to cut another tree newt winter!

So here’s how to make a wooden fake Christmas tree, to give old branches a new life:

For the one I made with my father, we took a steel bar, of the kind they use to make reinforced concrete. There’s no need to use a very thick one; one centimetre in diametre or so is enough, and since it won’t be perfectly rigid, your tree will be able to sway just like a real one. You need about forty to fifty straight-ish branches to make a reasonably tall one (the one we made is a bit taller than I am–admittedly, I’m not very tall). Drill a hole in a reasonably heavy log and stick the bar vertically in it. Then it’s extremely simple: sort your branches by length, drill a hole in the middle of each and run the steel bar through, arranging them so that they look like the branches of a tree. Different sorts of branches look lovely together. Our tree ended up having pine, cypress, apricot, fig and olive wood together, along with one branch from that one Christmas tree that manage to survive for a while in the garden. For the top, you only need to drill a hole lengthwise in a good-looking piece of wood to hide the tip of the bar. And there you are!

For the other one, we only used fig branches from the massive fig trees that hang from the neighbours’ gardens into my mother’s. She didn’t have a steel bar, so we screwed small branches on a larger one, arranging them in a spiral. It’s more minimalistic, and that’s just what she needed in her smaller living-room. We didn’t have a large log for the base either, so we used an old grinding stone she had in her garden to hold the tree in place. There’s enough room to hang garlands and decorations, and it will also stay here for a while.

Olive, fig, pine, apricot, cypress, and a little fir, dry as they get here and without an inch of fake snow. Now we’re talking about a real Christmas.


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