Day 9: Traditions of the Season- Christmas Greenery.
When the time comes to deck the halls, there is nothing quite like the Christmas greenery that starts to pop up in various shops throughout towns and big cities. An excellent representation of the festive season, Christmas greenery such as holly, ivy, mistletoe, and poinsettias have long been standing symbols of the holiday period.
Before it was fashionable to decorate a Christmas tree, evergreens were used in pre-Christian times throughout the home to bring the outdoors in and celebrate the Winter Solstice. Not only were they used to represent the new life of the forthcoming Spring but to also fend off evil spirits. Soon after Christianity arrived in Western Europe, greenery was represented with Christian meanings and banned from using it for decorations in the home. The UK and Germany were the primary countries to keep the use of greenery for decorating.
Read on to find the true meaning behind these symbols of Christmas.
The origin for the use of holly dates back to Pagan times. Deeply rooted in superstition, magic, and folklore, holly was used by the Druids, Celts, and Romans during the winter months. They regarded holly as a magical plant with it’s ability to always remain green even during the harshest of winters. It was a sign that Spring would soon return again. Nowadays, holly, with its prickly leaves and striking red berries, has come to represent the crown of thorns Jesus wore when he was crucified. The berries in turn are the droplets of blood He shed from those thorns. The evergreen stood for there will always be a renewal of life. The tradition of using boughs of holly to decorate with at Christmastime is more popular than ever! From garlands to wreaths and festive centerpieces to bannisters, holly is a versatile plant that will brighten up any room.
As it grows, ivy must attach itself to something for support. As humans, it’s symbolic that we remind ourselves to cling to God and loved ones when we need encouragement and support in our lives.
Mistletoe is a plant that’s able to adapt and grow on various tree such as willow, apple, and oak among others. Traditions tell us that the act of hanging it up in the house dates back to the Druids. While there is little evidence this happened, mistletoe has long been regarded as having mystical powers to ward off evil spirits, bring good luck, an cure illnesses. Perhaps this is why the ancient Druids favored it? There are mentions of mistletoe in Norse mythology as being a sign of love and friendship. When we think of mistletoe today, it’s most likely for the custom of sharing a kiss under it which we can trace back to England. A berry was to be picked from the sprig before a person could be kissed. When all the berries had been removed, there could be no more kissing. Funny how stories change throughout the years huh? Mistletoe remains a popular holiday decoration and can even be incorporated into “kissing boughs.”
Perhaps the greatest symbol of Christmas though is the poinsettia. The ancient Aztecs in Mexico used the bright green and red leaves to dye cloth and as a form of medicine. Around 1600 AD, Christian missionaries in America gave it the name Noche Buena or “the flower of Christmas Eve.” The name is derived from Joel Roberts Poinsett, a keen botanist and the first US ambassador for Mexico. He was in awe of its beauty when he first saw it, and eventually imported the plant from Mexico in 1828. While accounts vary, poinsettias have long been a symbol of good wishes. One story goes that a young girl wished to take a gift to baby Jesus at Christmastime, but she didn’t have any money. As she was heading to church she decided to pick a handful of weeds from the side of the road as that was all she could find for her offering. Once stepping inside the church, the weeds were magically transformed into a gorgeous red flower. The shape of the poinsettia flower and its leaves are often viewed as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus.
The use of evergreens in Christmas decorations dates back hundreds of years. From churches to homes, evergreens such as holly, ivy, rosemary, laurel and others have been used in decorations. Their cheerful and pleasing effect has allowed them to symbolize good luck and eternal life since Roman times.
I hope this holiday season you will fill your home with the delightful aroma and sights of the Christmas season in the form of evergreens. Remember in times of hardship, there are always beautiful things that can emerge such as the holly, ivy, and mistletoe.