Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Legend of the Needles

Little known is the Legend of the Christmas Pine Needles, or Légende des Aiguilles de Pin de Noël.

(This is a dueling blog: Donna-Lane's view can be found at

Many centuries ago in the Pyrenees Mountains in the south of France, Sancho - son of James II and Esclaramunda of Foix, the daughter of Roger IV of Foix (who persecuted the Cathars) - became King of Majorca, Count of Roussillon and Cerdanya and Lord of Montpellier.

Sancho was of ill health and so preferred to spend time in the mountains where the crisp air and scent of pine needles temporarily rejuvenated his constitution.

One day, as he was walking on a trail near the Correc d'en Benet, which is the headwaters of the river La Massane (or La Macana in Catalan), Sancho and his entourage encountered a Cathar elder. Immediately his soldiers set upon the heretic with the intent to kill him. The elder was not concerned, as he believed in reincarnation, and he thought it might be fun to come back as a bear or wild berry bush. But as the soldiers raised their swords, the elder asked Sancho if he would be interested in a cure for his chronic asthma.

Sancho halted the execution long enough to listen to the old man's remedy.

"You must never burn a Christmas tree," explained the elder. "Exactly one month after Christmas, you must gather up the needles of the tree and cast them into La Macana in the village of Argeles sur Mer. In this way, the tree will be returned to the earth and will grow into a great forest by the sea. The scent of the forest will be carried on the wind and fill your castles along the coast, healing your feeble body."

When the man had appeared to finish, Sancho, insulted at being called feeble, signaled to the soldiers.

"Wait, sir. There is one thing," said the Cathar. "A clause, if you will. You must use only one tree from the forest each year for Christmas. The remainder of the forest must be allowed to flourish."

"Or what?" Sancho asked, but before the answer came the soldiers sliced off the Cathar's head.

The King considered the old man's advice to be a ruse to save his life, but nonetheless, just in case there was some truth to it, on January 25 he followed the instructions and cast the pine needles from the castle Christmas tree into the raging waters of the river. In the spring, thousands of trees sprouted near the beach. So he continued the ritual in succeeding years until the coast was covered with pines.

Now in robust health, Sancho determined to build a fleet of ships to rival the navies of Genoa and Venice. He wanted to do some conquering. So he started to cut down the pine forest. And on the day he went to christen the first ship, he fell face first in the river and died.

He apparently did not believe in the Sancho Clause.

So that is why today in Argeles sur Mer, we celebrate Christmas with only one tree. And on January 25, we gather up the needles and cast them in the river, replenishing the pine forest by the sea.

Oh, by the way, the Cathar elder was reincarnated as a mimosa, the vibrant yellow flower that first heralds the coming spring. You just might see him as you walk in the mountains. 

Donna-Lane casts the pine needles into La Massane

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