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  • Writer's pictureRuth

Tree Planting Ceremony

The significance of planting a tree as part of a ceremony is beautifully symbolic as well as incredibly poignant. Some trees such as the oak can live an average of 300-500 years, thus surviving many, many generations. It is quite literally an awesome legacy to leave in someone’s name.

A tree planting ceremony can be adapted for any type of occasion, be it the celebration of a new life, the festivity of a new marriage, or in memory of a loved one.

History and Symbolism:

Native trees in Ireland date back 12,000 years. After the Ice Age, when the weather got warmer and before sea levels rose, birds and animals easily migrated around Europe. They brought with them the seeds of hazel, oak, willow and birch trees, among others. As a result, the island of Ireland became one huge forest, with evidence showing that 80% of the land was completely blanketed at one point.

Broadly speaking, trees are said to symbolise new life, longevity and wisdom. According to Celtic mythology, specific trees were often grown beside people’s homes in an effort to protect the family within with their associated power.

The tradition of planting a tree in honour of someone dates back to ancient times with different cultures having their own version of the ritual. Below, I’ve selected some trees that are mostly native to Ireland which have their own associated meaning and could be used in any ceremony.

The mighty Oak is featured in the Celtic Tree of Life symbol. The tree symbolises courage, wisdom, truth and strength. This beautiful and noble tree takes around 18-20 years to mature and produce its own acorns. Remember if you choose oak, you will need a lot of room, so take heed when you plant it.

The Silver Birch is one of the most sacred trees in Celtic mythology. It is said to symbolise new beginnings and protection. It’s associated with Bealtaine, so if your ceremony is taking place in May, this might be the perfect tree to plant.

The Rowan is another tree associated with Celtic mythology, symbolising courage, wisdom and protection. The blood-red berries produced by the tree are believed to be linked with creation and life.

The Apple Tree is another sacred tree, with a particular standing in Greek mythology. As well as representing health and love (‘The Tree of Love’), it should - hopefully- provide a bounty of apples every autumn.

The Sycamore tree symbolises balance. It represents longevity, generosity, and intelligence.

The Norway Spruce, or Christmas tree, represents, according to the Greeks, eternal life. It was also known as ‘The Tree of Birth’.

While many of us associate this tree with Christmas, it also has an association with Paganism and Winter Solstice. Pagans would carry branches of spruce into their homes to ward off evil spirits and celebrate life and light when the winter months were over.

The Holly Tree. In a tradition that has been passed down for many generations, my family places holly over the windows and doors at Christmas. When I asked my Dad about it, he said that it was meant to guard against bad luck during the winter months and, while the red berries symbolise new growth and good fortune for the new year.

Celtic mythology also says that Holly trees represent peace and protection.

-But don’t feel obligated to only adopt these specific meanings with particular trees. Any tree is symbolic and its meaning can be personal to you.

And so to the ceremonies themselves and how planting a tree can be incorporated into the ceremony:

Tree Planting and Naming Ceremonies:

I love including a tree planting enhancement as part of a naming ceremony, especially when the child has a broad geographical family spread. It's a wonderful way to include lots of extended family, particularly grandparents, as the soil can be taken from each of their gardens and mixed together to create a unique fusion in which to plant the tree. The soil represents the nourishment that they will provide in helping the child develop and grow.

Tree Planting and Weddings/Vow Renewals:

Similar to a naming ceremony, soil from a geographical spread can be mixed together to form a unique mixture. This is especially meaningful if you have relations travelling from across the globe to be with you on your big day.

As part of a vow renewal ceremony, children, or extended family can add a plaque/nameplate or a bench beside the original tree. A plaque anchors the story of the couple to this place, while the bench gives a reason to stop and enjoy the surroundings. Of course, if you didn’t plant a tree during your original ceremony, now is also the perfect time to do so.

Tree Planting and Remembrance:

Regardless of whether your loved one wants to be buried or cremated, having a (separate) tree-planting ceremony is a beautiful way to commemorate them. Again, adding a plaque and a bench gives reason to always remember their name and rest a while to think of them.

Space to plant a tree:

Not everyone is lucky enough to have space to plant a tree of their own, so here are some options to plant a tree in someone’s name.

The Tree Council of Ireland allows the public to sponsor a tree, which they will then plant in your name, or someone who you want it to represent. In return, they will send a certificate with the number of your tree, letting you know where it is planted.

Another group, Wolf Grange Forest also allows the public to sponsor a tree. Their options run from sponsoring a single tree (€20) to a dozen at €240. Buying a dozen trees is the equivalent of one person being carbon neutral for a year, while Native Woodland Trust charges €35 to sponsor a tree.

Please, please don’t worry if the tree that you plant doesn’t succeed in growing. This doesn’t take away from the symbolism. I know someone that this happened to and they simply planted another tree. The second one took root perfectly.

If you have any questions regarding tree ceremonies, drop me a line.


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