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In the contemporary literary world, there are stories that can be considered as legends. These are stories that depict several features making them qualify as urban legends. Contemporary legends refer to the stories that are said to be true. These stories are carried on from one individual to another.
In most instances, the contemporary legends are passed through word or mouth or mass media. In the present times, electronic media may also be used to pass down the legends. It has been observed that contemporary legends mirror the modern themes. The contemporary legends have been in existence for quite some time. However, they were neglected as the focus was on other forms of literature.
Nonetheless, the contemporary legends became prominent in the second half of the 20th century following the publication of various works in this genre (Clarke, para 2). The legend of the Fir-tree is a good example of an urban legend. The story was told by Lonely Shell and it goes as follows:
The legend of the Fir-tree
They both knew, from the start, that their love was impossible; that a day would come when they would have to say ‘Good-bye’.
On Christmas Eve, they decided that their relationship, as beautiful as an angel’s love story, should end with the dying year. He would have liked to have spent all of their days together, but she decided it was better to leave.
“The New Year should find us in our new lives, where we will miss each other” she said.
There were tears in her eyes, as she kissed him good-bye and he could still hear her words, as he looked through the window of the house, at the traces of her steps, far away, at the edge of the forest. He had wanted to accompany her until they reached the base of the mountain, where the town began, so that he would know she was safe, but she didn’t want him to. She wanted to leave, without looking behind, remembering him there, in the house of their love. The memory she was always going to keep in her heart.
The snowfall was getting heavier and, as all trace of her was slowly disappearing, covered by the snow, his fears and worries were growing. He should not have let her leave! At least, not before it had stopped snowing!
‘How is she going to reach the town alone, through all this snow. It grows thicker with each moment?
The days are so short; soon the evening will fall, she might lose her way and remain alone in that desert of snow, where nobody will hear her if she screams, or the wolves may attack her, before she can get out of the forest!’
He decided that he should find her, at any cost, and bring her back, or at least go with her to the town. He grabbed a hatchet, for defense against the wild animals, and started running through the snow, following the traces of her steps that were barely visible.
He could hardly walk by now, and the evening was getting darker and darker. He hoped that she had found shelter, inside the ruins of the old hut, in the clearing, on the top of the hill, but nobody was there. All traces of her had been completely erased! He fell to his knees, screaming desperately “Don’t go! Please come back! I love you!”
His voice woke-up the dry fir-trees from their slumber and, furious at being disturbed, they scattered the burden of their branches upon him, covering him in a huge pile of snow.
‘Good-bye, I love you’, he thought.
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He woke up late, without understanding where he was but then he recognized the clearing. The snowfall had stopped, and his footsteps in the snow clearly marked the way that he had come. He remembered the snow that had fallen upon him, taking his breath away. He could not understand how it was that he was still alive, where had all that snow had disappeared to, why his clothes were dry, and, moreover, why it was that even the snow under his body had melted away.
Most of all though, he could not understand where the fir-tree fragrance was coming from. Had he entered the delirium of those who die by freezing? It’s impossible for a ‘green’ fir-tree to be there, in the middle of the winter!
Yet, in the middle of the clearing, just next to the place where he had fallen, a green fir-tree had grown from that warm patch of land. He touched it to see if it was real, and the soft whisper of its branches brought, from far away, the echo of her laughter. He then realized that her love had made the fir-tree grow there; to protect him from the winter frost that would have killed him.
Feeling that the fir-tree was the last memory he would ever have of her, he decided to take it home and replant it in his garden, right in front of the window. He knew that every morning when he saw it, it would be like her saying “Good morning”. With that fir-tree, kept evergreen by the same miracle of love that had made it turn green in the middle of winter, he would never be alone again!
As he was walking through the snow, the fir-tree on his shoulder, all the dry fir- trees that he passed by started turning green, filling the forest with their fragrance.
Since then, the fir-tree has become the symbolic tree of Christmas, and it stays evergreen, so that nobody will ever be alone during the cold Christmas nights (Shell, para 1).
The legend of the Fir-tree as a contemporary legend
This story qualifies as an urban legend considering that it has several features of an urban legend. This legend offers an explanation to the origin of the fir-tree. It also explains why the fir-tree is used during Christmas time. Just as the case in most contemporary legends, the woman in the legend is portrayed as weak, whereas the man is portrayed as a hero.
The man sets out to rescue the vulnerable woman. In addition, the truthfulness of this story cannot be verified. It can also be noted that the location and details of the contents of this story are not clear. The story emphasizes on the culture of togetherness during Christmas time indicating that the presence of the fir-tree in the house means that there is no room for loneliness. These are some of the aspects that make this story qualify as a contemporary legend (Barnes and Smith, 169).
In this legend, the man in the story was not willing to let his lover leave him alone. Although the lover was determined to leave without the man, the man decided to follow her. However, this was an afterthought as the woman had already left. His pursuit led to the discovery of the fir-tree. The fir-tree reminded him of his lover who had left him. Indeed, he took the fir-tree back home where it reminded him of his love.
With respect to the group in which the story was performed, it can be noted that the legend was meant to offer an explanation to the origin of the fir-tree that is common during the Christmas time. In my interpretation, I can observe that the story serves as a contemporary legend in that it depicts various characteristics associated with urban legends.
Other Versions of The legend of the Fir-tree
There are other versions of the story regarding the origin of the fir tree. Some of them have been noted as shown below:
According to a legend, Saint Boniface, an English monk who organized the Christian Church in France and Germany, came upon a group of pagans around a great oak tree, about to sacrifice a child to the god Thor. To stop the sacrifice and save the child’s life Boniface felled the tree with one mighty blow of his fist. In its place grew a small fir tree. The saint told the pagan worshipers that the Fir was the Tree of Life (Emerson, para 4).
Another legend is told as follows:
Another legend tells us that Martin Luther, founder of the Protestant faith, walking through the forest one Christmas Eve, was awed by the beauty of the stars shining through the branches of the evergreen trees. He cut a small tree and took it home. To recreate the same starlight beauty, he placed candles on all its branches (Emerson, para 5).
There is yet another legend that goes:
Yet another legend tells of a poor woodsman who met a lost and hungry child on Christmas Eve. He gave the child food and shelter for the night. The next morning he found a beautiful glittering tree outside his door. The hungry child was really the Christ Child in disguise. He created the tree to reward the good man for his charity (Emerson, para 6).
These legends have a common element in that they try to explain the origin of the fir-tree. They also try to explain how the fir-tree became associated with the Christmas festive season. According to these legends, the fir-tree did not exist before, but only came up after something happened.
However, it has to be mentioned that each legend has a different explanation on how the fir-tree came into existence. In addition, the legends seem to converge as they all associate the fir-tree with the Christmas season. This is a common cultural practice that is widespread in the contemporary society.
In all these legends, there is a common motif. All legends discussed focus on the origin of the fir-tree and its association with Christmas festivities. As I was looking for parallels, the motif of the fir-tree stood out. All versions of the legend can qualify as urban legends as the details are not clear and that they cannot be verified to be true. However, they all offer an explanation to the origin of the fir-tree.
Barnes, Daniel and P. Smith. “The Contemporary Legend in Literature – Towards an Annotated Checklist, Part 2.” Contemporary Legend, 2 (1992): 167-79. Print.
Clarke, David. Urban Legends are contemporary stories, told as true but incorporating ancient and modern elements from folklore. 2008. Web. https://www.shu.ac.uk/
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more. n.d. Web. http://www.angelfire.com/journal2/flowers/pcd40.html
Shell, Lonely. The Legend of the Fir-tree. n.d. Web.