Plants like holly and ivy can be a hugely popular part of our Christmas decorations in wreaths and garlands, meaning that we do not miss out on a dose of greenery even in the depths of the bleak mid-winter. 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 Ev, predicts whether the man or woman of the house would rule that year. Rush out to your gardens to cut some holly or 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 used to represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified and 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.
Ivy is said to symbolise fidelity and, as an evergreen, also eternal life. The ancient Egyptians dedicated ivy to Osiris, who represented immortality, whilst in ancient Greece, ivy was the plant of Dionysus because of its vigour.
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.