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The Beautiful Christmas Green, from the Harper's

 

One of the pleasantest pastimes of the whole year for country children is gathering Christmas green. This is done before the very cold weather begins, otherwise the beautiful club-mosses and ground-pines would be frozen solid in the damp soil of the swamps and woods, or the whole would be covered with a snow carpet, broken only by rabbit and squirrel tracks. The freshest green for Christmas trimming is found in damp meadows or on springy hillsides, where it nestles in the moist earth, overshadowed by thickets of alders and birches. It grows in the forests too; not so much among pine-trees, as the dry carpet of fallen needles is less nutritious than the loam produced by the accumulations of dead leaves of oak, maple, and beech trees.

There are many kinds of ground evergreens, most of them members of the Lycopodiaceæ, or club-moss family. There is the creeping club-moss, the cord-like stem of which, sometimes yards long, hides among the dead leaves, and sends up at intervals graceful whorls of bright green. Tiny bunches of short white roots run down in the damp mould, where they find nutriment for the plant. If you work your finger under the stem, and pull gently, it is wonderful to see the long and beautiful wreath slowly disentangle itself from the forest floor, disturbing hundreds of little wood-beetles, which scurry away to hide again among the woodland rubbish. There are two kinds of creeping green very common in all moist wooded lands at the North—the kind with leaves rising in whorls, and that with a stem covered with bristle-like spikes. This last variety has leaves, not very abundant,—which resemble a sprig of young fir, and is sometimes called "ground-fir." It is of a deep rich green color, but not so graceful for trimming as the other kind. Besides the creeping green, there are many varieties of what children call "tree-green," independent little plants rooted deep in the mould, which send up a single stalk about eight inches high. Some of these are such perfect little trees as to appear diminutive copies of the firs and pines towering far above them, and are called "fir club-moss." A pretty evergreen to mix with the more feathery varieties is the Chimaphila umbellata, or prince's-pine. It has bright shining dark green leaves, which have a very bitter taste, and is sometimes called bitter wintergreen.

BRINGING HOME CHRISTMAS GREEN.—Drawn by J. O. Davidson. BRINGING HOME CHRISTMAS GREEN.—Drawn by J. O. Davidson.

As all these ground varieties need to be gathered before ice and snow begin, often weeks before Christmas, care must be taken to keep them from drying. They should be heaped up in some cool, damp place, where they will not freeze, and should be sprinkled plenteously every day. The boys make frames in the form of crosses, stars, wreaths, or letters, and the girls find a pretty pastime in tying on the greens. As fast as the designs are finished they must also be laid away and kept damp until Christmas. Woodland mosses, holly leaves and scarlet berries, and dried everlasting flowers are pretty to mix with the green. Branches of hemlock and young firs for Christmas trees are cut as near Christmas-time as possible. If a room is to be made into a bower of hemlock boughs, they should not be fastened up until the morning of Christmas-eve, as the heated air of the house loosens the flat, tooth-shaped leaves from the branch, and the least movement sends them in clouds to the floor. Any one who has tried to sweep them from the carpet after Christmas, will prefer some other variety of green for trimming another year.

The immense amount of green brought into New York city the week preceding Christmas can scarcely be estimated. Viewing the hundreds of young firs in the markets, and the enormous numbers of wreaths and other designs, it would seem as if the forests and swamps had been stripped to such an extent that nothing would be left for another year; but so prodigal is Nature of her beautiful club-mosses and her aromatic pines, that what is gathered for holiday trimming amounts to little more than a weeding out of superfluous growth. Many of the greens sold in the New York market come from New Jersey. Schooners bring them from all along the coast, freight-cars come loaded with the beauty of the inland hills, and huge market carts trundle their precious burden from the near-lying forests and damp meadows. Although it is prohibited by law to cut young trees from the barrens along the coast, as the growth of pines keeps the sand from drifting, many small coasting vessels drop into the bays and inlets around Sandy Hook and other parts of the Jersey shore a little before Christmas-time, and send their crews ashore by night to secure a cargo to bring to New York.

It would be interesting to follow this woodland treasure after its arrival in the great city; but one thing is certain—wherever it is, even if it be only a sprig in the hand of a sick child, faces are brighter, hearts are happier, and the sweet words, "Merry Christmas," have a deeper significance.