The Story of the Little May Tree

by Anna

With my engagement, a small birch tree arrived in our flat. If you are wondering why, let me give you a short explanation first:

In various parts of Germany, there is a yearly tradition involving a “May tree” or “May pole”, with the exact custom differing depending on the region you are in. The area I grew up in was North Rhine-Westphalia, where the tradition goes that on the last day in April (Walpurgis Night), next to dancing into May, young, unmarried men, are busy cutting down birch trees and erecting them in front of the houses of their beloved ladies, finished with coloured ribbons and a sign of the lady’s name. This is a symbol of a proposal, and although the tradition is still active, more in some parts, less in other parts of the country, I have noticed a considerable decline in birch trees attached to fences, drain pipes and balconies over the last decades. Is it maybe because the tradition of marriage is on the decline too?

The tradition of dancing into May is said to date back to the Celts, who celebrated the beginning of summer (Beltane) on the first of May. Later, around the 17th century it became custom in Germany to allow for so called “lending marriages”, where a girl was given to a man for a trial period to encourage partnerships within a community to hold the core of the town together. But as, when and how exactly today’s May tree custom comes from, remains unclear.

When my boyfriend and I visited Germany a couple of years ago and saw these trees, I explained the tradition to him and a couple of months later I had my  very own May tree. He actually mail-ordered a small birch tree, tied coloured ribbons on its little branches, even bought a proper  ceramic pot and placed it in the hallway, ready for me to stumble across it. In its little instruction card he had written in German whether I would marry him. It wasn’t exactly May, but that didn’t really matter. It was the thought that counted. And a very original one it was indeed for a marriage proposal 🙂

Now, as I have previously described, I struggled a bit with the whole idea of commitment and having to wear a ring as a sign for everyone to know. Naturally, for me, everything in me resisted against it. I was just too independent and had built a very high wall of protection around me. While I struggled along my little birch tree withered and slowly died. First I thought it was simply the natural process of dying when winter approached, then I thought that a tree wasn’t really supposed to live in a pot on the windowsill anyway. But we had no outdoor space. I made a few feeble attempts at sprouting tiny leaves when spring approached, but they also died again soon after, despite the algae fertiliser I fed it. I accepted that it wouldn’t grow any more and stopped watering it.

Nearly a whole year has passed since the proposal and I have worked through a lot, came to many insights and understandings and appear to have settled into living together with my partner. I still can’t wear the ring, and still cringe at the word “fiance”, but other than that, I feel truly happy with myself and my partnership. And suddenly, the little tree started sprouting tiny, lush green leaves again.

Seriously, I have not watered it for a couple months and simply couldn’t get myself to throw it out, since it resembled a symbol of the partnership between my boyfriend and me. When I was looking at it this morning, noticing how many big, bright green leaves it had grown over the past weeks (I had begun enthusiastically to water it again), a simple thought popped into my head:

It had withered with my commitment fear and, out of the blue, started sprouting with my new-found self acceptance and love. Despite the fact that plants can adapt to severe draught or cold and still live and grow, for me, this was a sign. A sign that my relationship wasn’t lost, but indeed was only just about to flourish and rise anew! And I also realised how true it is that plants react to our thoughts and feelings.

I found an article by the BBC about tests they did on plants with light. It lead to the understanding that plants can think and remember, as they stated it. And yes, their test was about the reaction of plants to light, but thinking about it, what is light? It is mere energy, just like thoughts. Thoughts shine over us just like light does. And the intensity and resulting reactions depend on the kind of thoughts we hold and put out. It is obvious: good thoughts nourish, bad thoughts don’t. Just like it made my tree wither, it had a negative impact on my relationship. But once I had changed my thoughts on my life, myself and my relationship, I felt happier and more at ease. And so did the tree.

Be aware of your thoughts. Change them if they have a negative impact on your surroundings. And if the thought can’t be changed, maybe change the believe behind it first. Go back to the roots of that believe and try to understand what created it and what gave it the power over your life. That way, you hold the power over your life, not your past thoughts and believes.