Seasonal Greenery and the Legends!

Seasonal Greenery and the legends.

There are so many lovely types of greenery around at this time of year. Holly, fir, spruce, cypress, ivy, mistletoe are more often than not used in decorating homes for Christmas. Sprigs are tucked in behind pictures and mirrors and are used to make swags for mantelpieces and  are woven together to make wreaths with which to decorate your front door.



When all other plants lay snoozing under the frozen earth the evergreen came to be regarded as proof that life goes on even in the bleakest season of the year. Holly has long been seen as a symbol of goodwill and friendship. During Roman times the people used to exchange sprigs at the feast of Saturnalia in mid-December and use it in decorating their homes to welcome in the new year. Superstition abounded all over Europe concerning its magical properties, people used to believe it could protect them from evil spirits.
As Christianity spread to these shores holly with it's very sharp prickles came to represent the cross of Christ, the berries represented the blood he shed.
Ivy started out with a less salubrious past. Associated with the Roman God of wine, Bacchus, ivy was often a feature in many ale houses where it was trained up a pole outside the tavern as a sign that ale and wine were on sale.




 Mistletoe has a very interesting mythical past. There are many legends surrounding this famous plant. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant. That means it attaches itself to other trees primarily apple and oak and sends out it's roots into the host tree and then takes up it's nutrients, thus causing the tree damage.  In Brittany, it is known as Herbe de la Croix, as it was believed to have been the wood used to make the cross on which Christ was crucified.  The mistletoe was purportedly turned into a parasite due to this transgression. In fact mistletoe played a big part in Druid celebrations. They believed it had miraculous healing properties and was a sign of fertility and they would hang it up in their places of worship. Although reasons may have changed the practice of hanging up mistletoe to be able to steal a kiss under it, probably has it's roots in this ancient practice.



Mistletoe was a major component in the "kissing bough" which in medieval times was often the centerpiece of Christmas decorations in the home, this was before the imported Christmas tree had reached our shores. A wire globe is covered in greenery, seven red apples were suspended at the centre of the globe, hung on red ribbons, candles were attached around the centre and a great bunch of mistletoe was attached at the bottom. This was then suspended from the ceiling on red ribbons. When visitors arrived you were greeted under the "kissing bough" as a sign of peace and goodwill.




Although traditionally, Christmas decorations are taken down after Epiphany or Twelfth night. Christmas greenery was not taken down until the feast of Candlemas, on February 2nd. Then snowdrops which were pushing their heads up through the hard earth  were picked to replace it.




 No matter what we believe about greenery and it's  symbolism, we can still appreciate the  form and beauty that it bestows upon our homes and how it subtly fills the space with colour and scent!


Anne