December 21, 2021

The Silver Fir of Nativity, By Carolyn Mack


The Eternal Mother of the evergreen bough, Druantia, Gaelic Fir Goddess, makes no reference to her own tree, making her the “Queen of the Druids,” and therefore mother of the tree calendar, contained in the “Cad Goddeu.” In this ancient poem, the silver fir has its station on the first day of the year, the extra day after winter solstice, commemorating the birth of the Divine Child. 

In Northern Europe and Anglia, her birth symbol, boughs of fir, were used in ritual cleansing, to sain with burning boughs the newborn. Palm fronds of Mediterranean ritual became fir boughs. In ancient Irish “ailm” stood for the palm, first tree of the sacred calendar, one of five vowels, “A” for “ailm.” Its significance is in contrast to the yew, sister tree at midwinter eve. They were yew, Saturn and lead; and  fir, Moon and silver. In ritual these represented the death of the sun god, birth of the Divine Child, secret symbols of the tree alphabet.

Pagan ritual practice represented the survival of nature in the lopped evergreens, and the lopping off of branches or fronds later became just horticultural practice. In medieval England, revelers played a midwinter game derived from the Gawain calendar poem, in which the poet of Gawain was descriptive of his battle with weather dragons as expressed in an allegory of war in a winter solstice game of ritual death of the old year: the Green Knight, his holly club, and momentarily severed head.

The ritual of cutting fir boughs, as well as trees, and bringing them indoors, also fell out of favor with the Church. Yet, the silver fir with interior decorations was to be widely popularized by Queen Victoria, when she and Prince Albert brought a gigantic tree into Buckingham Palace and made it public in published photographs, thus spreading the idea of the Christmas tree, still known and beloved to this day.