Plants like Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe are all a hugely popular part of our Christmas decorations, meaning that we don’t miss out on a dose of greenery even in the depths of the bleak mid-Winter. All these traditional evergreens have deep rooted symbolic meanings associated with this time of year.
In pagan times, Holly was thought to be a male plant and Ivy a female plant. An old tradition from the Midlands of England says that whichever one was brought into the house first after Christmas Eve, predicts whether the man or woman of the house would rule that year. Rush out to your gardens to cut some Ivy if you would like to bring back that tradition!
Holly is thought to date back to the Druids, for whom the plant represented everlasting life. Christians adopted the plant as a symbol of Jesus’ promise of everlasting life. The prickly leaves are also said to represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. The berries are symbolic of the drops of blood that were shed by Jesus because of the thorns. In Scandinavian countries, Holly is known as the Christ Thorn.
The common Christmas decoration of Mistletoe also dates back to the Druids who thought it was embued with magical healing properties. An ancient Norse legend then relates that Freya, the goddess of love, placed mistletoe in a tree between Heaven and earth so that people who pass underneath it should kiss. The plant became a sign of love and friendship.
In some countries, it was believed that evergreens would keep evil spirits and illnesses out of the home and evergreen boughs were cut down in Winter and hung over doorways. The green of the branches helped people through the long Winter by having hope that come Springtime, food, warmth and new life would abound. We await that hope and wish you all a very Happy and Healthy Christmas!
I have learnt to appreciate ivy with its subtle flowers and berries. I can admire holly’s sculptural leaves, and its shinyness, but I am still telling myself to like it!
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