The trees growing in our country are mainly trees which lose their leaves in the autumn. Have you ever wondered why there is only one deciduous tree, the holly, which keeps its leaves in the winter? Saint Nicholas happens to know more about the reason why, so listen to this humorous wee fairy tale:
A long time ago most people still lived in huts in villages spread across the country. Looking down from his heavenly home an archangel noticed how smoke curled up out of the chimneys of a small hut on beautiful summer days. He thought it was rather odd, because if the temperature is so pleasantly warm that there are children playing in the river – who could possibly be having a fire at this time of the year?
The archangel sent a holy man down to earth to investigate. This holy man, Saint Nicholas, discovered that the devil was using acorns to distill brandy in the small hut.
A number of tradesmen were quick to realize that there was good money to be made from selling this strong liquor. So by the time the Saint arrived at the small hut they were already putting out the barrels for sale. Saint Nicholas got talking to them and tried the drink. He had to agree that this warming drink was really delicious. But regrettably it was a liquor brewed by the devil.
The holy man had one small problem: he had no money, because there simply is none in heaven. When the tradesmen asked him when he would pay them, he answered: “Come autumn when all the trees have lost their leaves.” The tradesmen agreed to this and delivered that year’s first barrels of brandy. Feeling satisfied about the deal, Saint Nicholas returned together with these barrels to heaven.
Once he arrived back home he told the archangel what he had seen and tasted, about the devil and the brandy and about his deal with the tradesmen. That was a slight problem, however, because for heaven to start financing the devil’s brandy was definitely not done! Together the angel and Saint Nicholas hatched a plan for the money problem: from that autumn on the angel ensured the holly kept its leaves and remained green throughout the year. And what became of the tradesmen? They are still waiting for their money.
Ever since then the holly remains green throughout the year and ever since then Saint Nicholas has an outstanding debt with the tradesmen. Perhaps that is why he buys so many small presents in December, a time of year when all the trees should be bare…
And what happened to the barrels of brandy in heaven? No mention of them is ever made again in this story!
Holly is the only evergreen deciduous tree in North-Western Europe. The leaves remain on the tree for two to a maximum of five years. The older a leaf is, the fewer sharp prickles it has. If conditions are just right, the tree can grow to be 10 metres high and live to be two or three centuries old. However, the tree often stands in the shadow of taller deciduous trees, so that the holly never reaches a great height. Its preferred habitat is rain rich areas and it does not cope easily with periods of severe frost. Holly flowers in April and May. The red berries are poisonous for humans. Amongst birds, however, only the hawfinch and redwing like the berries. A small flock of redwings can strip the berries from an entire tree in one day. If there is nothing else to be had, the thrush eats the berries in winter and it will happily brood in a holly tree. Many holly trees are left damaged as a result of Xmas decorations during the Xmas period. The Romans were already using holly at the end of December in honour of their celebrations of Saturn, the god of agriculture.