Thursday, November 19, 2020

Trees & Thanksgiving


People gathered around a table under a tree. There is a big pine cone in the forefront.

As I continue my months-long devotion to trees, Thanksgiving looms large on the calendar. It’s a week away as I write this, and people are scrambling to get their plans together. I feel fortunate in that we had already been planning an immediate family-only meal ahead of the Covid call to shrink gatherings. Without the preoccupation over preparations, I have had time to consider how trees fit into Thanksgiving. My conclusion is that every season, and every holiday, gives us an opportunity to appreciate trees and Thanksgiving gives us some special opportunities.

A bright red Chinese Pistache tree in a green field.
Chinese Pistache 
The thought of Thanksgiving conjures up nostalgic images for most Americans. These include turkey, of course, but there are also seasonal delights like football and crisp, cold days. In 2020, some of these traditions are somewhat diluted because of Covid and, with Global Warming, the weather may be warmer than usual (it’ll be 74°F here in Tucson). But, what can – and should – remain unchanged is the being thankful part of Thanksgiving. We all can find a reason to be thankful for trees (here are 10 good ones). This lady was so inspired she wrote a lovely “Thanksgiving Mediation” on trees, with a special call-out to the glorious Chinese Pistache.

Branches in a clear vase with paper leaves attached that have messages written on them.
Rather than just being thankful for trees, you could create a Thanksgiving or Thankful tree. Apparently, these have become increasingly popular in the last few years, but I just became aware of them this year. The idea is to create a decorative piece that people can adorn with those things that they are grateful for. A tree whose leaves carry these messages seems to be the general practice here, but the variations are limited only by imagination. Here and here are some great examples. I heartily endorse this new trend, whether you go all in and create a tree or just use parts of this idea in your décor for the day. Unsure as to how to go about this? Here are some step by step directions for one version.

Another tree decoration that is gaining popularity is a Harvest tree. This is a more seasonally based decoration and is adorned with things that make you think of fall and harvests (think colored leaves, pumpkins, and old-fashioned scarecrows). Here are some pretty examples. This blog advocates for
A small tree decorated with fall-themed decor and a scarecrow doll standing next to it.
decorative trees from Back to School through Christmas. They use a lot of the colored trees I wrote about back in 2018. You could put your own spin on these types of decorations, like using a football theme (team-specific encouraged). Or you could wrap up the year with a tree that reflects the whole of 2020 – it could have things that represent the pandemic, toilet paper shortage, politics, and natural disasters. On second thought, don’t do that – it could turn out to be the most depressing tree ever created. Okay, I know there are some of you out there for whom these trees are just a little too much like Christmas trees and feel that those sorts of decorations belong in December. But, the truth is, most of us need to feel better as we come to the end of a brutal year. So why not put up whatever decorations make you feel better or nostalgic for better times, whenever you're so inclined? This article makes an excellent case for this. Here is a simple tutorial on how to make a Harvest tree and, for those of you who are more visually inclined, here is a video.

Speaking of decorations and nostalgia, who remembers making turkeys out of leaves pasted to paper plates? Many generations have brought that treasure home from school to be displayed on the refrigerator. If you think about it, many of the classic Thanksgiving arts and crafts are derived from or represent trees and/or their parts. Between the colorful leaves, the atmospheric shape of newly-bare branches, the acorns, and the pinecones, there is a lot to work with. Here are some great children’s projects, both new and familiar, and here are some projects that adults may enjoy. For the adults, I recommend pairing the activity with hard apple cider (delicious, therapeutic, and provided by a tree). You’ll feel thankful in no time.
A bowl of apples on the bottom left and an apple pie with leaf decor crust on the upper right.

No matter how you slice it, Thanksgiving is about the food. Sure, there are the “required” staples, but everyone also has those particular dishes that the day just wouldn’t be the same without. Take a moment to think about what foods you will have in front of you, and chances are many come from trees. There is apple pie, of course– not just the fruit but the cinnamon that flavors it; pecan pies have a place of honor on many Southern tables; avocados and pine (piñon) nuts are Southwestern staples; some people have to have walnuts in their stuffing; chocolate, of course, and coffee or tea to top off the feast. It is especially important to appreciate the trees that give us our beloved foods; the fact is that many of them are being affected by climate change. I love the flavor of maple and would hate to see the world lose it, but sugar maples are really struggling. The same can be said for Piñon pines. Without an appreciation for and knowledge of what these trees bring us, people are less motivated to protect them. As a side note: If you are interested in directly feeding off of a tree or two, here is an interesting article (complete with recipes) on which ones make the best dining.

An outside Thanksgiving table set on a blonde wood table with blue and whit settings and a colorful leaf centerpiece.
This year, public health officials are encouraging people to take their Thanksgiving outside. I cannot think of a better way to acknowledge trees than to get out there where they grow. Turkey and trimmings under the shade of a tree sounds like a sublime dining experience to me. If you decide to go this route, there are a bunch of ways to decorate the space to get that holiday feel. Here are some really nice examples to get your creative juices flowing. 

If you choose to stay inside while eating, getting outside before or after dinner is another way to bring the natural world into your celebration. For some families, a little touch football with the family is the perfect warmup to food and pro-football. Others have a less structured or less active approach. Whatever makes you feel happy and grateful, go outside and do it if you’re able. Sit under a tree and laugh with friends, take a bike ride with the kids, or go on a short walk to see how the trees are doing with their color-changing and leaf-dropping. This is generally a time of good weather for most of us, so go outside and appreciate it – especially in this year of Covid when Nature is still doable but long periods in confined spaces not so much.

Nyle DiMarco using sign language to say Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Turkey Day, y’all, and remember to thank a tree.

Submitted by Pam

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