Tree Dressing Day takes place on the first weekend of December each year.

 In different parts of Britain, Ireland and northern Europe, there is a tradition of fastening rags to trees (usually hawthorn) near holy wells. After taking the water, people tie a piece of their clothing to the tree. The tree is a symbol of long life and health. In Scotland these are known as clootie (cloth) trees.

Dressing all over the world…
From ‘The Tree Dressing Day Manual’ (Common Ground, 1994)

In Japan on Mount Horai, there grew a Camelia tree with silver roots, golden trunk and branches hung with precious stones which was thought to be the home of everlasting life.

Xerxes, the famed ruler of Persia on discovering a plane tree he considered beautiful, is reputed to have honoured it by dressing it with jewels.

There are may instances of dancing in honour of trees:  The top of the Heavy Oak in Devon, was kept clipped flat, and at festival time a platform would be installed there with tables and chairs for a dance and feast.

In Shahabad in north India, as part of Hindu ritual The Karan (worship of the holy tree) takes place.  A tree in the centre of the village is smeared with butter then daubed with vermillion and turmeric, and adorned with flowers and garlands.  The whole village then takes part in the ritual singing and dances to the beat of the Mandar drum.  They dress in bright colours and the women wear marigolds in their hair.

In Pakistan it is not unusual for young women to meet each other under the shade of trees.  They sit and chat or sing and dance together and take turns on tree swings.  On special occasions such as Eid, they dress up in brightly coloured clothes and decorate their swings with coloured sequins and with flowers.

In Africa, many dances and stories are connected to trees.  The tree is at the heart of village life.  It is civic centre (public debates are held beneath the branches) and symbol for continuing fertility and the life of the people.  Some trees are considered to be homes for the spirits of the ancestors.  In West Africa for example, silk cotton trees are held in great respect.  Such trees are ‘dressed’ with a ring of palm leaves around the trunk – and are protected at all costs.

In Mexico during December, pinatas (bags full of sweets) are suspended from the trees as a treat for children, in a popular feast which clearly alludes to the bounty of the trees and the riches they provide.

On May Day in Provence, May trees were decked with flowers and ribbons in every village and hamlet, while on St Georges Day (April 23rd) the young Slavs of Corinthia decorated a tree which had been felled on the eve of the festival with flowers and garlands.

In parts of Wales, a flower-decked birch would be set up for dancing on St John’s Day (Mid Summer’s Day / June 24th) and beyond.

In some parts of Russia on Maundy Thursday the people of a village would select a young birch tree from the wood and dress it in women’s clothing or ribbons and beads. This was followed by a feast, at the end of which the dressed tree was taken back and set up in one of the villager’s own homes, where it remained until Whit Sunday. During this time guests called at the house to visit the tree, maintaining a broad social dimension and connecting with nearby living trees lost to the more private Christmas tree ritual.

The Norwegians, particularly in Oslo, still take branches of birch inside and decorate them with coloured ribbons or feathers. Nowadays, they can even be bought from the shops ready made.

In eastern Finland until late into the last century there were special memorial trees, which protected households and brought good luck. In 1993 a primary school in Kajaani was inspired by Tree Dressing Day to create their own celebration (with the help of the Finnish Forestry Research Institute). An old rowan tree was decked out in blue and white ribbons (the colour of the national flag) and the children wrote poems and read them to the tree as part of a cross curricular event designed to deepen understanding of the importance of trees.

Trees are culturally important throughout the Scandinavian countries, where according to ancient mythology, the universe was conceived of as the great ash tree, ‘Yggdrasil’. The Christmas Tree, the Norway Spruce, is perhaps a modern vesrion of this archetypal ‘World Tree’.

At Satterthwaite in Cumbria, an old oak tree by the village fountain, was reported in 1889 to be dressed every year with coloured rags and also with crockery. This sounds only mildly eccentric when compared with contemporary stories of old boots in a tree in the USA. Clearly locally significant traditions are being maintained, and trees honoured for specific reasons every year by the local community.

At Chir-Ghat in India, local women tie pieces of their clothing to the branches of the ancient tree, which reputedly witnessed the appearance of the god Krishna to the gopis (cow-girls). It is an act of devotion expressed through one of nature’s most enduring emblems to link this life with the next.

In Japan, according to ancient Shinto and more recent Buddhist belief, a Kami (spirit) can reside in natural ‘objects’ such as rivers, and mountains, but also in trees. When this happens the trees are sanctified and adorned with simple ritually folded strips of white paper or sometimes fabric.

We need to give as much care and protection to our trees, to really take them into our lives and look after them for life.