EasyJet emails: bi-weekly reminders that Rhodes, Zante and idyllic Egyptian beaches exist, tactically arriving in one’s inbox around midday, when the average person pootles about their home kitchen devising lunch. In several of these EasyJet emails appear pictures of the palm tree, majestically idle in all its height and grandeur, one of the quintessential, symbolic features of the far-off getaway. On Condé Nast Traveller’s Instagram, the palm tree makes several appearances, notably more so than other varieties. Present in pictures of Sri Lanka, the Maldives, St Barths, Gokana, Bequia, the Turkish Riviera and Thailand within January and February posts alone, the palm tree is a favourite of this page’s content-creator. The city has its skyscrapers and the ski holiday its pine trees, whereas the revered beach holiday boasts these majestic trees. Incredibly, there are over 2500 varieties and some can live for over a century. Yet the one that remains in our minds is always imposingly tall, proffering coconuts and lazily slanting over swathes of beach. It’s foregrounded in its height, and memorable in what advertisers use it to represent: the true sense of a ‘get-away’.
However, there’s much more to the palm tree than what Condé Nast Traveller may have us believe. They’ve been around for a long time – Julius Caesar’s love of dates ensured that he had them growing throughout Rome. They were then adopted as a religious symbol in the Christian faith as Christ returned to Jerusalem, where he carried palm fronds, hence Palm Sunday. Palm fronds are also present in the Jewish feast of Sukkot and significantly symbolic within Islam too, where the tree appears in Jannah, and is also said to have been a material used by Muhammed to build his home. Palm trees have a full-bodied history, but today, that can often be undermined by their re-emergence as a symbol for the typical island getaway. Similarly, they can be seen as a symbol for commercialised areas like Los Angeles, where the large number of palm trees has been attributed to the 1932 LA Olympic Games, which saw many of the trees planted alongside pavements and public parks to beautify the city. The palm tree therefore cannot claim to have one symbolic personality; instead, it is a bizarre melting pot symbolising wealth, victory, peace and the marketing tactics ubiquitous throughout Instagram. Perhaps the palm tree, however, is in fact rather appealing in its balancing of multiple socio-cultural ideas. Although many of us are taught its role within different religions, it is also able to balance this with its modern-day symbolising of holiday luxury.
Of course, for those who live with palm trees, they are simply scenery. Yet, in the UK, the palm tree gestures vividly towards a completely different side of nature: a far cry from the effects of autumn and winter which quieten and deaden the liveliness of trees once in bloom. As a symbol for both the luxury getaway and within Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the palm tree is, within all instances, a symbol of stability and peace . Although it seems bathetic comparing the stability the palm symbolises as a religious symbol to that of the beach holiday, the palm tree is not reduced to commercial vacuity. Rather, it seems to retain its majesty even within those EasyJet emails which fritter inboxes – much like the centuries-long lifespan of some palm trees, so too does their symbolism live on, a part of nature to admire.