The Whetting Tree Ceremony

We attended a whetting tree ceremony today up at the new house. Our builders have a tradition of nailing up a whetting tree on the highest point of the roof once the structure is completed.  The tree branch is always an evergreen, perhaps indicating the feeling of solidity and permanence one gets once a roof is on a new house.

 

The whetting tree acknowledges the hard work of the builders and the trust and respect of the house owners toward the builders. All raise their drinks in a toast to a job skillfully done. Hence once the tree is nailed up, the whetting begins by the clinking of bottles and the downing of a cold glass of beer.  In our case—Mexican beer flavored with a fresh-cut slice of lime.

 

Also known as the “topping off” ceremony the precise origins of the tradition are difficult to pin down, but builders agree the ceremony has been around for at least one hundred years. And it seems to be a world tradition, for I found mention of the ceremony in various countries including the U.S., Sweden, Mexico, and Germany.

Juan is lifted by the Green Machine, so that he can nail up the whetting tree on the highest point of the roof line.
Juan has just completed nailing up the bough.
The whetting tree ceremonial toast: Tim and Laurie, Jaime, Mane, Juan, and Bruce:
Southslope Woodworks and Bustos and Hernandez Construction Company.
The little bough flies proudly above the new house at Mule Springs Farm.

 

Author’s note:  Have any of you heard of this ceremony? Any stories to tell relating?

 

 

 

 

18 thoughts on “The Whetting Tree Ceremony

    1. I like the overhang of your roof, a handsome shady touch! Hi Peri- Yes, the roof has a three foot overhang — designed especially for the hot weather. Thanks, I will let the builders know you like it. Thanks for checking in. Sher

  1. I had only heard of it referred to as “Topping Off” someone told me that it was European in origin and usually associated with timber frame construction, but I understand the Mohawk high steel walkers in the Northeast also follow the tradition????
    Thanks for the pictures and story!
    “Semper Fi!”
    SD

    1. I had only heard of it referred to as “Topping Off” someone told me that it was European in origin and usually associated with timber frame construction, but I understand the Mohawk high steel walkers in the Northeast also follow the tradition????
      Thanks for the pictures and story!
      “Semper Fi!”
      SD

      Thanks Roy- I thought you might have something to add. 🙂 I also read that it is usually associated with timber framing, and we have a friend in Montana who teaches timber framing, so I thought I would ask him. Interesting about the steel walkers- I can only imagine being “that” high up. 🙂
      Sher

  2. It’s great to see the progress on your home – I haven’t heard of this ceremony but I like it – as a forester anything related to trees in interesting to me!

    1. It’s great to see the progress on your home – I haven’t heard of this ceremony but I like it – as a forester anything related to trees in interesting to me! Thanks Karen. There is a strong sense of anticipation here. It’s wonderful to see it unfold. Thanks for checking in. Sher

  3. Wetting Bush.

    “Wetting the bush” is a custom with roots in northern Europe, where trees, particularly evergreens, symbolized life and the promise of good things to come. Attaching an evergreen tree or branch to the top of the last beam in a barn or home as it was set into place, and then drinking a toast for good luck and in celebration of a job well-done, came to be known as “wetting the bush.” It was a way to give thanks to the spirit of the trees that made up the structure of the building and to bestow good luck on the structure and it’s inhabitants. At times the celebration might become quite elaborate, with the owner providing food and drink (usually alcoholic) to the craftsmen working on the project. The custom carried over to early America, particularly New England, and is still practiced in Germany today. Ironworkers still engage in a similar practice called the “topping out” ceremony – attaching a fir bough, or a flag to the last iron beam at the top of a project.

    1. Wetting Bush.

      “Wetting the bush” is a custom with roots in northern Europe, where trees, particularly evergreens, symbolized life and the promise of good things to come. Attaching an evergreen tree or branch to the top of the last beam in a barn or home as it was set into place, and then drinking a toast for good luck and in celebration of a job well-done, came to be known as “wetting the bush.” It was a way to give thanks to the spirit of the trees that made up the structure of the building and to bestow good luck on the structure and it’s inhabitants. At times the celebration might become quite elaborate, with the owner providing food and drink (usually alcoholic) to the craftsmen working on the project. The custom carried over to early America, particularly New England, and is still practiced in Germany today. Ironworkers still engage in a similar practice called the “topping out” ceremony – attaching a fir bough, or a flag to the last iron beam at the top of a project.

      Hi Tim- Thanks for this information. Roy mentioned ironworks too, and I think it would be breathtaking to see that ceremony-way up high. Probably by airplane. 🙂 Sher

  4. That is fascinating, Sher.

    When our builders had finished work on our little garden flat, we had ‘roof wetting ceremony’ when the roof was up and tiled, and when all the major work had been done, but before the next set of contractors began their work inside the flat.

    We organised meat and fish (one of the builders, a Rasta – and quite a character!, insisted that he would only make a braai with snoek, which proved very tricky to find at that time of year, but we did it!) for the guys, and supplied loads of wood, beer and cooldrinks. We let them take charge of the actual braai, so that they could grill the meat to their own specs. 🙂 We all had a fabulous time!

    I wish I’d known about the tradition of mounting a green branch at the top though, as this sounds like a lovely idea, Sher.

    1. That is fascinating, Sher.

      When our builders had finished work on our little garden flat, we had ‘roof wetting ceremony’ when the roof was up and tiled, and when all the major work had been done, but before the next set of contractors began their work inside the flat.

      We organised meat and fish (one of the builders, a Rasta – and quite a character!, insisted that he would only make a braai with snoek, which proved very tricky to find at that time of year, but we did it!) for the guys, and supplied loads of wood, beer and cooldrinks. We let them take charge of the actual braai, so that they could grill the meat to their own specs. 🙂 We all had a fabulous time!

      I wish I’d known about the tradition of mounting a green branch at the top though, as this sounds like a lovely idea, Sher.
      Reggie:
      Thanks for posting about your wetting ceremony. For our readers— Reggie’s celebration was in South Africa! You will have tell what braai and snoek is though. I don’t recognize those names. Your party sounds like a lot of fun. Sher

      1. A braai is the South African equivalent of a barbecue, and a ‘snoek’ is a special kind of fish that is often caught by the fishermen in the sea around here.

      2. A braai is the South African equivalent of a barbecue, and a ‘snoek’ is a special kind of fish that is often caught by the fishermen in the sea around here.

        Thanks Reggie. I am glad I asked since I thought braai was a particular cut of meat. 🙂 Sher

    1. Congratulations on your new house – a very exciting moment! Interesting story, and comments that came in from European readers.

      Hi Alison:
      I am traveling right now, so just a quick note, but I am so glad you enjoyed the posting. And thanks for your comments. The windows are now in! Sher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s