Results tagged “Christmas” from PlanetGreen.org

Santa (Dew) Claws

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Rudolph Red-Nose Reindeer.jpgYou probably remember the names of the nine famous reindeer doing warm-ups this season: Prancer, Dancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Dasher, and, of course, Rudolph. But most likely you don't know the following interesting facts about caribou. (Which are really the same thing. You must caribou about that.)

Julius Caesar.jpg
Did you know that Aristotle, Theophrastus, and Julius Caesar all saw reindeer? Caesar's description of it was:

"There is an ox shaped like a stag. In the middle of its forehead a single horn grows from between its ears, taller and straighter than the animal horns with which we are familiar. At the top this horn spreads out like the palm of a hand or the branches of a tree. The females are of the same shape as the males, and their horns are the same shape and size."
                -Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Chapter 6.26)

Female reindeer stay in herds. Males are solitary, but join the girls during the breeding season. Like elk, the males win a group of females by rutting. Male reindeer horns fall off in the winter, but female horns don't. 

Reindeer often make a clicking sound that leads people to think they have hurt ankles. However, this species of deer has dew claws (these look like high heels) on the hooves. This sound is normal. Perhaps reindeer think they're cool tap dancers for doing it. 

Reindeer have predators: wolves, wolverines, bears, and coyotes. Reindeer prey on lichens, sedges, and other grasses, digging them out with their hooves in winter. In captivity, they are fed grains.

And, just to be on the safe side, I'll say most. But most reindeer do not have red noses!

Birdseed Christmas Ornaments

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chickadee.jpgMaking birdseed Christmas ornaments is supposed to be a simple kids’ craft. Of course, it has been elaborated, so that you are supposed to use cookie cutters, add ingredients to the birdseed, and bake them in the oven. But the old-fashioned way is much quicker and easier.

This craft had been on Mom’s to-do list for a long time. We had a bird feeder, but that was year-round. When we finally made them, we used ice-cream cones as our base, covered them in peanut butter, and rolled them in birdseed. Then, we attached threads and hung them outside on the bottlebrush. Within two hours of sitting in the sun, the peanut butter had melted off the ice-cream cones, taking the birdseed with it. Perhaps blue jay.jpgthis ought not to be attempted in places with a warm
climate or on unusually hot days.

Pinecones can be used rather than ice-cream cones, but the scales should be open instead of closed so that there is plenty of space for putting the peanut butter and birdseed. The best substitutes for peanut butter are honey or vegetable shortening.

These ornaments attract the same kinds of birds as a regular feeder. The standard species include cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, warblers, mockingbirds, blue jays, etc. If you do this regularly, migratory birds may also put you on their list of rest stops!

O Christmas Tree: The Holly and The Ivy and Other Christmas Plants

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Holly, mistletoe, amaryllis, poinsettia and pine probably are in your house this holiday season. Here are some interesting things about these plants:

Amaryllis is planted as a bulb. It has red, pink, or white flowers that bloom just after the leaves reach their greenest point. It originated (strangely for a Christmas plant) from the Cape of Good Hope. They need little nourishment, and will grow in peat moss or pebbles. 

Poinsettia.jpgPoinsettias' bright red petals are actually leaf bracts. If you look, you will most likely see a small bunch of yellow flowers. How did it become a Christmas tradition? Here's how the story goes:

A Mexican maiden had no money to buy a gift, so an angel appeared and told her to gather some of the weeds that grew abundantly by the road. She did and left them in front of the altar. They then bloomed into the first poinsettias. The star-shaped leaves are said to have been symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem, and their red color represents sacrifice.

Untitled-1.gifMistletoe was considered to have magical healing powers by the Druids, so they hung it at wintertime. The Scandinavians made it out to represent peace, relating the plant to their god Frigga, who was goddess of love. And that is how the tradition originated of kissing under the mistletoe. But, when  the Church banned mistletoe because it was apparently a heathen custom, some farmers suggested using holly instead. Holly has therefore become another trademark of Christmas. 

Trees, as you might already know, came through Martin Luther and St. Boniface. The Norse people thought their god Thor lived in a tree. St. Boniface cut down the so-called Tree of Thor to undermine this myth, and he found a fir growing in its branches. He then decided to take the fir home. Martin Luther, however, decided it would be a good idea if those trees were a Christmas celebration. He saw it as an alternative to the traditional Catholic nativity scenes. And that is how they came around to be Christmas symbol.

Surprisingly, every Christmas plant has an interesting historical story behind it. 

Christmas Tree Cutting in the National Forests

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Christmastreecutting.jpgThe day after Thanksgiving means the beginning of the Christmas season. The radios begin playing Christmas carols as people put up their lights and decorations. Bits of wrapping paper deck the floors as people hurry to hide their presents. Kids wonder what they'll get as they try to surprise their family with some useless -- but essential -- item. Nativity plays are written and then rehearsed at the top of the actors' lungs.

But the Christmas tree plays just as big a part of the festivities as any of those things. Traditionally, Dad carries it in, Mom puts the lights on it, and finally the kids get to help decorate it. But as we've learned, getting your tree from the wild adds much more to the whole tradition.

Many national forests across the country allow you to cut your own Christmas tree. When we heard about it for the first time, we thought it sounded suspiciously like logging. However, there are many reasons why it is better than getting one commercially.

By doing this, you are helping with the maintenance of forests. It may be viewed as a better alternative to prescribed burns or selective logging. When clumps of trees are too close to each other, they don't get enough light to grow properly. So, if you choose a tree that's standing next to at least one more, it will make the other trees in the stand healthier. Usually, forests not offering this program have to either use prescribed burns to remove stands of trees and dry wood that is a potential fire hazard or hire people to cut down some of the trees. They have to do something, or wildfires will start easily and quickly get out of control. So you're also helping to make forests safer.

Additionally, places with a large demand for trees set a limit on obtainable permits. In the desert states, where trees are not as common as in other places, available permits may total just above 6,000. However, where self-serve Christmas trees are not as popular, there may not be any limit at all. Besides this rule, there may also be restrictions regarding how many trees one family may take. The numbers can vary from one per family to five per person, so it's a good idea to clarify this if you plan to get more than one Christmas tree.

It is illegal to cut the top part off a tree. Accordingly, the highest you can cut is six inches off the ground. In some places, the circumference of the trunk also has to be six inches or less. Still, I would recommend following this rule whether it is enforced or not, because the trees with thicker trunks are older and will take longer to grow back. Chainsaws are also prohibited. Another general rule is that you're supposed to cut at least fifty feet from the road. In most places, however, there are specific plots indicated with ropes or ribbons for cutting trees and you don't have to worry about that.

chorusfrog.jpgGetting a Christmas tree that has already been cut can have its own problems. In 2009, Washington sent shipments of Christmas trees to Alaska. Unfortunately, live Pacific Chorus frogs had made their homes in the trees. This species of frog can carry fungi or viruses, including the chytrid fungus that has killed amphibians on many continents. The frogs were not native to Alaska, and residents were told to kill the frogs if they found them in their tree. In 2007, a load of Washington trees headed for Hawaii was redirected to Alaska when they found two yellow jacket queens and a kind of hornet riding on them. Hawaii is much stricter than Alaska about what it lets in (they probably learned from the mice, mongooses and mosquitoes introduced by early settlers), and requires trees to be shaken by a machine before entering the islands. No matter where you live, introducing non-native species is a problem.

If there is a national forest near where you live, you can find out if they allow Christmas tree harvesting. (Do not rule yourself out because you live in the Great Plains. Both Nebraska and South Dakota actually allow cutting Christmas trees in their national forests.) For most national forests, their websites list details under the "Passes and Permits" section.

It's a good idea to know what species of tree you're allowed to cut. In Florida, bushy sand pines are available. In one New Mexico forest, any species of conifer is available. In Arizona, it varies by forest. In two of them, you can take any species of tree; one is exclusively firs; another only pinon or juniper trees. In some Colorado forests, you are obliged to take the yellow-green lodgepole pine.

Directions are also important so that you make sure you end up going to the right forest. In California, both the Mendocino National Forest and the Lake Tahoe Basin do allow people to take trees, but the nearby (and easily confused) El Dorado National Forest penalizes those who do.

Finally, cutting your own Christmas tree in the forest is an experience that is entirely unmatched by going to most tree lots. Finding a tree yourself is unforgettable -- although it does help if you remember to bring a camera!

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