Barbara Branches


In my family we follow the custom, that on December the 4th, we bring into our home a bouquet of Barbara Branches. These are branches cut off fruit-bearing trees like cherry trees or apple trees. It is one of my favourite traditions throughout the year and I want to tell you why.

Let’s start with the religious background (to be over with it soon), it will help understanding the origin of the name. Barbara is a saint worshiped by christians. Her father did not want her to become baptized, so he locked her up in a tower. When she was brought up there, a branch of a tree was caught in her hair or maybe clothes. She kept the branch with her and one day it started to blossom. This is the the story I was told, and if you want to hear a more accurate version please look it up.

So how does the tradition work? On the 4th of December one has to walk out into nature and cut a few branches of a fruit-bearing tree. Living in a city I’m lucky that I have the opportunity to buy them at a florist’s. The branches are not very interesting to look at, mostly brown with some spots of grey or black, the colour of a winter landscapes. But do not miss all the little buds. Those sleeping beauties wrapped in a coat of red and brown tissue. When we put them into our warm homes we are maybe able to trick them into believing, that spring has started earlier this year. If we succeed in this, they will open their winter coats and show us their beautiful blossoms of rebirth and hope. It is believed, that if the Barbara Branches start to blossom until the 24th of December, it is a sign of good luck for the next year.


So why do I love this tradition so much? Living in Austria winters can become very dull and take quite a toll on your mood, especially when you do not live in those areas which are covered in a blanket of snow throughout the season. As soon as the last autumn leaves have fallen, the world becomes grey and cold. Don’t get me wrong, I do see beauty in this time of the year. I enjoy the grey, seclusive world. It does not demand anything of you, like summer that makes you go out to sit in the sun and be happy. You can walk through wafts of mist keeping by yourself with your thoughts. And there are those cosy evenings that are spent with a good book and a cup of tea. And all the christmas preparations, that include twinkling lights, cinnamon and hot spiced wine.

But still, summer is forgotten so easily; “Can you imagine, that we ever ran around in short trousers and skirts and still felt hot; Can you imagine, that everything was green and warm and we stayed outside until the night”. I can’t. I never can. The same as I can not imagine in summer, that I will ever have to wear a thick woolen coat again.

Barbara Branches are our chance to trick winter, who wants us to believe, that everything is coming to an end; that everything is dying and that nighttime will further expand, until there won’t be daylight anymore. In the middle of those christmas celebrations, which indulge in widespread darkness, that obtains its right to exist from the cold fingers of winter with all its illumination and warmth, there is one little rebel that reminds us, that the cold season won’t last forever. At this point of the year, during the longest nights, those little blossoms tell us, that there will be a new spring and that we can not stay underneath blankets forever. We have to recall that a fresh year is awaiting us, with a new summer approaching that requires of us to start new projects, to grow new ideas and to travel to new horizons.

These are the thoughts I have when I arrange some branches in a vase and look at them during December. And when I see those blossoms of blushing silk open up, hope and beauty are laughing at me.

I will keep you updated as soon as some of the little rebels show!

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