The Solstice Branch

Regular tree in 2013
2013, our first winter in Salem, we bought a standard tree. There was room for so many decorations!

Like many pagan households, we enjoy having a “Christmas tree” in the house during the winter holidays. Calling evergreens “Christmas trees” is a bit of a misnomer, as the history of bringing greenery into the house around the Winter Solstice predates Christmas by many years. It can be traced all the way back to pagan times in the Egyptian and Roman empires. Our modern concept of holiday trees started as a German tradition from around 1600.

2014 branch with food
Here is our first branch, from 2014. We put it behind the dining room table to help keep it upright. This picture is from our Solstice celebration meal.

When we lived in Boston, we bought a tree every year. Sometimes from a random parking lot of pre-cut trees, sometimes from cut-your-own lot in the suburbs. Either way, we spent a lot of money to watch a tree disintegrate in our living room.

2016 branch
This shot of the base of our 2016 branch shows that it is actually several branches grouped together. The stand is also several containers grouped togther and weighted with rocks. Tony and Charlie enjoy the sparkle and some cat grass.

Moving to Salem presented a new opportunity. Our house came with several pine trees in the back yard. Very large pine trees with low-hanging branches. So, we decided to save some money, not kill a tree, and still have the fresh pine experience: we started cutting branches and bunching them together to make a vaguely tree-like object to decorate. I also like that just using branches, not a whole tree is more environmentally friendly and it takes up less floor space if you position the branches right.

2017 solstice branch
In 2017 I restored an old parlor stove. Since we have no way to actually use it as a stove, I decided it would make a good branch stand.

Some years, as you can see by the photos, have been more successful than others. Sometimes the branches have quite a bit of curve to them and are hard to position. As we run out of low branches, this problem intensifies. Maybe next year I won’t be able to cut branches that fit and we will have to find a different solution, but for now our lopsided Solstice branch suits us just fine.

2019 solistice branch
Our branch this year. It’s been moved to the living room and it not interested in standing straight.


I want to show off some of the decorations we have, because the sparkly bits are what turns a branch into a Solstice branch! We have had to cut back on how many decorations we use because the surface area is smaller, so everything on the tree has special significance. Several of our ornaments are new this year. We held a holiday brunch in early December and asked that, if people wanted to bring something, to bring an ornament rather than food to share (because I was cooking a lot).

tree topper
Our tree topper is a combination of an LED star, the angel from my mom’s tree when I was little, and a Jack Skellington toy. That sums up so many of our traditions.
star and moon ornaments
A pagan tree needs stars and moons!
cat ornament
This snowman/cat/witch ornament was handmade by my friend Kate.
Vintage glass ornament on an evergreen tree
A vintage glass ornament give to me by my mother.
space alien ornament
Nothing says winter solstice like a space alien bearing gists of stars!
eyeball and poinsettia ornaments
The eyeball was a gift from my sister and the poinsettia is from a friend
typewriter ornament
I bought this green typewriter ornament for myself this year to encourage me to keep writing
red glass ornament with gold leaves
This red and gold ornament was another gift this year.
wooden crustal ornament
This glittery wooden ornament shaped as a crystal was a gift from a friend this year.
potato ornament
We found this potato ornament in a thrift shop when we lived in Jamaica Plain. It was a must have.
pickle ornament
Pickle are said to be an old German tradition, but that is an apocryphal story story invented to sell weird ornaments. They are still fun to have!

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