A part of the side-effects of being educated in a convent school is that I celebrate Christmas with more fervour than I celebrate Deepawali or Ganesh Chathurti. This year I decided to set up a Christmas Tree and didn’t succumb to the temptation of buying those readily available picture-perfect plastic ones from the supermarket.
Christians borrowed the tradition of setting up a tree for Christmas from the Pagans who used branches and evergreens to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it reminded them of the impending spring. Fir trees (which are now synonymous with Christmas Trees) were first used only some 1000 years ago in Northern Europe where they grow in plenty.
Early Christmas Trees, across many parts of Europe, were cherry or hawthorn plants (or a branch of the plant) that were put into pots and brought inside. Those who couldn’t afford a real plant made pyramids of woods and decorated it to look like a tree with paper, fruits and candles.
Coonoor is a hilly region famous for its tea estates and while on a vacation there this summer I picked up a discarded tea tree trunk. It was lying in the garage all these days as I had no idea what to do with it. The pagan origins of the Christmas Tree inspired me to use the tea-tree as a Christmas Tree.
Propping it up was another challenge as it just wouldn’t stand on its own in any position. I finally got the idea of propping it in a urli filled with pebbles. The urli is a traditional Kerala brass bowl used for cooking purposes earlier but now serves as a decor feature. I had a basket full of pebbles collected from various rivers across the country and finally got to use them to root the tree.
To give the set-up some height, I placed the urli with the tea-tree on a Rajasthani elephant stool. Though I wanted to make the ornaments myself, last week I came across lacquered wooden ornaments made by artisans in Chennapatna which were too good to not buy. Chennapatna is a town en-route Mysore from Bengaluru and is famous for its lacquered wooden toys. Most of the toys I played with as a little girl were from Chennapatna and the ornaments reminded me of those days. A star made with handmade and hand-painted paper was the last ornament up.
I had some banana fibre boxes in which I put the gifts. I then arranged the boxes near the tree on a couple of Chettinad tiles from Athangudi (picked up on an earlier trip). Serial lights I use for Dasara Gombe Kolu (we have a tradition of displaying mud dolls for Dasara) was the final item to decorate the tree.
One evening of churning out all my creative juices preceded by a week of wondering how to setup a Christmas Tree led to the setting up of my desi version of the Christmas Tree which is an ode to the intermingling of cultures, customs and ideas.
P.S. All that’s left to do now is eat some delicious plum cake.