When we think of Christmas colors, green and red are the two most popular that come to mind. My blog today is all about the greeneries that we see during the holidays…including wreaths, holy & ivy, poinsettias, and mistletoe. All of which help decorate our season.
I’ll start with the wreath….Hanging a circular wreath of evergreens during mid winter seems to go back a very long way. It might have started back in Roman times when wreaths were hung on their doors as a sign of victory and of their status. Rich Roman women also wore them as headdresses at special occasions like weddings and to show they were posh. Roman Emperors also wore Laurel Wreaths. They were also given to the winners of events in the original Olympic Games in Greece.
The word ‘wreath’ comes from the Old English word ‘writhen’ which means to writhe or twist.
Next we have Holly & Ivy...Holly: The prickly leaves represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. The berries are the drops of blood that were shed by Jesus because of the thorns.
In Scandinavia it is known as the Christ Thorn.
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 whatever one was brought into the house first over winter, tells you whether the man or woman of the house would rule that year! But it was unlucky to bring either into a house before Christmas Eve.
Ivy: Ivy has to cling to something to support itself as it grows. This reminds us that we need to cling to God for support in our lives.
In Germany, it is traditional that Ivy is only used outside and a piece tied to the outside of a Church was supposed to protect it from lightning!
Now for the red…Pointsettias. Poinsettia plants are native to Central America, especially an area of southern Mexico, known as ‘Taxco del Alarcon’ where they flower during the winter. The ancient Aztecs called them ‘cuetlaxochitl’. The Aztecs had many uses for them including using the flowers (actually special types of leaves known as bracts rather than being flowers) to make a purple dye for clothes and cosmetics and the milky white sap was made into a medicine to treat fevers. (Today we call the sap latex!)
There is an old Mexican legend about how Poinsettia’s and Christmas come together, it goes like this:
There was once a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who had no present to give the the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Services. As Pepita walked to the chapel, sadly, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up.
‘Pepita’, he said “I’m sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves him will make Jesus Happy.”
Pepita didn’t know what she could give, so she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a a small bouquet. She felt embarrassed because she could only give this small present to Jesus. As she walked through the chapel to the altar, she remembered what Pedro had said. She began to feel better, knelt down and put the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers, and everyone who saw them were sure they had seen a miracle. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’, or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’.
The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity.
Last, we have Mistletoe: Mistletoe is a plant that grows on willow and apple trees (and in garden centres!). The tradition of hanging it in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids. It is supposed to possess mystical powers which bring good luck to the household and wards off evil spirits. It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology and that’s where the custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from.
The custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from England. The original custom was that a berry was picked from the sprig of Mistletoe before the person could be kissed and when all the berries had gone, there could be no more kissing!
The name mistletoe comes from two Anglo Saxon words ‘Mistel’ (which means dung) and ‘tan’ (which means) twig or stick! So you could translate Mistletoe as ‘poo on a stick’!!! Not exactly romantic is it!