In the instant we signed the papers and took charge of our 44 acres back in November 2003, we became stewards of many thousands of trees, including several swathes totaling twenty plus acres of toddler trees that had been planted by the previous landowners (now our excellent neighbors) as a part of a USDA Conservation Reserve Program planting.  Thousands of six-year-old spruces, pines and oaks  many of which we mowed around to release them from competition from the grasses and to discourage the wild parsnip and bush clover that towered over them as the summer progressed.

Our toddler trees in 2004 in front of the hill into which Underhill House has since been built.

Our toddler trees in 2004 in front of the hill into which Underhill House has since been built.

A tree farm requires a lot of thinning over time, and the field between the house building site and the road became our best pickings for Solstice Trees for many years.  At first they were a little small, then they were just right, and now 11 years later, they tower over us.  We pick a tree that’s crowding its strapping teenaged neighbor with our necks craned back trying to envision how the top of the tree will look lopped off and set in our house.

How those toddler spruce have grown!

How those toddler spruce have grown!

Last year, we were really pleased to offer a full-height tree over 15 feet tall  to Folklore Village, which is  less than three miles as the crow flies off to the west of us.

Heading to Folklore Village.

Heading to Folklore Village.

Their focus is cultural sustainability, and one of our spruces have become part of their 66 and 67th Festival of Christmas and Midwinter Traditions, where they were lit with candles cleverly hooked to their boughs for several traditional events.

Last Friday we attended a Folklore Village concert in their 1882 Plum Grove Church.  The Madison Maennerchor bounced their robust four-part harmony off the rafters.  This singing organization has been performing German and other nationality music in Wisconsin since 1852.  It was a lovely concert.  Their aim is to promote Gemütlichkeit  which can be described as a cheerful feeling of warm, cozy peace of mind in a social setting.  Well done!IMG_5200-(1)

I’m sure all of us who filled the little church building were very glad we had braved a spitting, cold rain  to be engulfed in good will and good music.  It epitomized a classic holiday state of mind.  For our family, seasonal music is the best part of winter holiday time.DSC_0013

After the concert, we all retired to Folklore Village’s Farwell Hall, and there was our tree in the center of the spacious room.  Everyone mingled, nibbling traditional holiday cookies and then the slender candles in their self-righting holders were passed around for us to hang on the tree.  Long poles allowed a few experienced tree lighters to place the highest candles.

DSC_0018I’d never seen a tree lit with candles before and was really impressed at how stable the candles were.  Each candle holder had a hook to hang on a branch and a weight dangling below at the end of a long tailpiece to keep it upright.  Ingenious little devices.  And gradually fresh, white candles were dotting branches.

As they were lit, everyone got quiet.  There is something very elemental about a tree full of controlled fire that no technological LED innovation is ever going to be able to mimic.  And talk about going off grid!

Check out this blog about candles on trees.  Still, open flame on very flammable branches is probably something you want to approach very, very carefully.

The Maennerchor began to sing again, and before long, everyone in the room was facing the tree and joining in the familiar carols.  Black Friday and the whole commercial holiday madness seemed very far away.  For one evening we were all part of an age-old solstice tradition, gathered around a green tree brought indoors and lit with symbolic fire, raising our collective hopes against the long dark of winter’s night.DSC_0027

At home, while we are big fans of bringing in a fresh-cut tree, we prefer to keep our indoor fires behind the tempered glass door of our little wood stove.  We also include a night of candle light only, but we keep our candles well back from the tree.

How do you express that primitive urge to light up the winter night?  Got a special tradition to share?

Wishing you all a Happy Holiday from Underhill House!

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