Natural traditions

, 26 December 2019
Natural traditions
Robin on Holly © Roger Wilmshurst

By Charlotte Owen

WildCall Officer

We all have our favourite Christmas traditions, and many of the oldest and best-known have nature at their heart.  From boughs of holly to bunches of mistletoe, potted Poinsettias and evergreen wreathes, millions of us have been re-wilding our homes for the festive season by bringing the outdoors in.

It would be ridiculous to suggest dragging a fully grown fir tree indoors at any other time of year but Christmas just wouldn’t be complete without one.  This hasn’t always been the case though, and the pioneers of this tradition would have drawn plenty of questioning looks at the time.  People were used to seeing evergreen branches and foliage used as decorations, and this ancient custom dates back thousands of years to the earliest winter solstice celebrations.  The green leaves and winter berries of holly, ivy and mistletoe symbolised new life and lifted spirits in the midst of a long, dark winter.  The concept of decorating an entire tree didn’t emerge until relatively recently, winding its way to Britain via Germany in 1800, and it wasn’t an instant hit.  The Christmas tree remained a quirk of the royal family until it was popularised by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1848, when it took the wealthy nobility by storm. 

We can thank the Victorians for many of today’s enduring Christmas traditions, including our love of the Robin.  Back in 1840, the launch of the Penny Post made it possible to send a letter anywhere in the British Isles for the modest sum of one penny.  Such an affordable new service immediately proved popular and generated a multitude of mail, which was delivered by postmen in brand new, bright red Royal Mail uniforms.  The red-breasted postmen were fondly nicknamed ‘robins’ and the birds soon featured on early Christmas cards – another new invention – allowing the Victorians to delight in the idea of a robin delivered by a Robin. 

The Christmas break provides the perfect opportunity to enjoy nature outdoors too, and Sussex has a lot to offer.  Whether you take a bracing coastal walk or peaceful woodland wander, I hope you enjoy our very own winter wonderland this festive season.

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