Monday, December 27, 2010

Seven Ways to Recycle Christmas Trees

A  pine needle-infused bath is just one
earth-friendly way to reuse your Christmas tree.
About 13 million Christmas trees were cut and sold last year, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Unfortunately, many ended up in the holiday trash.

Here are eight better ways to reuse your Christmas tree after the holidays:

1. Recycle It: Many communities around the United States offer recycling programs for properly prepared Christmas trees. First, remove ornaments, tinsel, nails and stands. If your tree is taller than 6 feet, cut in half.

Trees that have been flocked, painted or fireproofed cannot be recycled ... something to keep in mind when you shop for Christmas trees each year.

2. Feed the Birds: Set the tree outside and decorate with orange slices, cranberries or popcorn. The birds will love the winter feast. Be sure to remove all tinsel, lights and decorations first.

3. Chip It: Run Christmas trees through chippers or shredders to make mulch for garden paths. Chips also make effective bulk for compost piles. Always strip trees of decorations first.

4. Mulch: Remove needles and use to mulch garden, conserve water and fight weeds. The needles are especially appropriate for acid-loving plants. Later, use tree to support climbing beans or sweet peas in warmer months.

Photo by doortoriver on Flickr
 5. Protect Wildlife: Consider leaving the tree outside to decompose naturally and provide wildlife cover for birds, rabbits and other small animals. Over time, trees decay and add nutrients to soil.

6. Smell It: Make aromatic portpourri. Combine dry, crumbled needles with cloves, broken cinnamon sticks, dried orange peel and orrisroot. Add a few drops of fir, cedar, pine, orange and/or cinnamon essential oil(s). Keep covered for at least a week so scents blend. Stir regularly. Display in bowls or use as stuffing for scented pillows.

7. Take a Bath: Soaking in a pine needle-infused bath is popular in Europe's Alps. In fact, pine is widely used for muscle pain, rheumatism and circulation problems, according to "The Herb Society of America's Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses," (Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2001).

For a homemade remedy, infuse pine needles in oil. Fill a glass Mason jar with washed needles and sweet almond oil. Close tightly and place in sunny spot. Steep at least three weeks. For stronger oil, steep longer. Use as a massage or bath oil.

Never use trees sprayed with fire retardant or other artificial substances in bath tea or oil. Ingredients listed here are safe for most people, but always check for skin sensitivities before using.

What's your favorite way to recycle a Christmas tree?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fun Facts About Christmas

Christmas has a rich history filled with lots of little-known facts. Consider these unusual facts ... or these fun facts you might not know:

Birth of the Sun: Christmas and the winter solstice have more in common than you think. The birth of Jesus was assigned to various dates for more than 300 years, but never much celebrated.

In the fourth century A.D., Roman Emperor Constantine moved the holiday to Dec. 25. The Julian calendar used at the time erroneously considered Dec. 25 to be the winter solstice.

Many early civilizations, including Ancient Rome, believed the winter solstice - the year's longest night - symbolized the birthday of the sun and the return of the light. The annual event was extremely important for these early cultures - depending as they did on the natural elements to survive. The solstice seemed an appropriate day to celebrate Christmas.

Here's a winter solstice menu, with delicious recipes from Helen Yoest, yours truly, Blue Moon Evolution Cafe, and Kelly Senser of the National Wildlife Federation.

The Giving Tradition: Today, it's hard to imagine Christmas without gifts. But it wasn't always so. The tradition dates back to the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, held on the days leading up to the winter solstice. Kalends of January - the New Year - was another important gift-giving time.

As the Greek Libanius explained, "The impulse to spend seizes everyone ... a stream of presents pours itself out on all sides."

This was why the early Church considered gift giving to be a pagan holdover. And they frowned upon the practice for centuries. Instead, gifts were given on Twelfth Night (January 6) instead.

Since that's not the case now, here are last-minute gift ideas from the Nest in Style podcast.

"At Christmas we banquet, the rich with the poor,
Who then (but the miser) but openeth his door?
Thomas Tusser, 1524-1580

A Slow Start: Christmas ranked low as a holiday for centuries. Many traditions had pre-Christian roots and the early Church wasn't keen to accept them. It wasn't until the late Middle Ages that Christmas became popular.

Towns and cities often appointed a Lord of Misrule, who presided over the Christmas entertainment. (Santa didn't come until later.) This Lord of Misrule was typically dressed in colorful clothing and directed elaborate processions, plays and festivities. Their services were an important part of Christmas and these "lords" were hired by such royalty, as the English kings Edward VI and Henry VIII.

The largest Christmas feasts often included roasted peacock and swan ... painted with saffron and "refeathered" right before serving. In 1289, a boar's head served as a stylish centerpiece for the bishop of Hereford.

Want something easier for your holiday party? Here are last-minute entertaining tips from Nest In Style podcasts.

Four strange facts about Christmas you probably didn't know.

However, you decide to celebrate ... may you and your family experience joy, peace and prosperity this holiday season.