Have you noticed that the holidays are filled with greenery? There is the Christmas tree of course, but traditionally mistletoe is hung about and evergreen boughs often decorate the house both inside and out. It is all very beautiful, but have you ever thought about when or why these bits of nature stepped into Christmas celebrations? Well, let me enlighten you today.
Mistletoe is the stuff of romantic legend. If you are caught standing underneath a bough of it during the Christmas season, a kiss is sure to be stolen. But when did this custom begin and why? It would seem that we have the ancient Norse people to thank for this delightful practice. The story is long, but boils down to mistletoe being held in high regard for its link to fertility. While in actuality, mistletoe is considered a parasitic bush, growing on a host tree (often apple, but sometimes oak). As it is grows in the air, appears to be without roots and stays green in the winter, not surprisingly it became a revered symbol by many cultures, including Greeks, Romans and Anglo-Saxons alike. It is kind of sweet to hear how Frigga, the goddess of love, blessed her son, only to lose him to mischievous Loki (god of evil), who slayed her dear Balder with a bough of mistletoe. It is suggested that Frigga’s tears turned into the berries on the mistletoe and in her joy of having her son back she kissed everyone who crossed under the mistletoe. Enter today the custom of kissing under the mistletoe.
What of Holly though? It too is an evergreen plant and as such held a special place in ancient cultures. How could a plant remain green in the darkest days of winter and not have some kind of magical powers, so the thought went. While holly earned a reputations for fertility and rebirth, it gained more fame later with its association to Jesus Christ. It is said that the sharply pointed leaves of holly represented the crown of thorns worn by Jesus on the cross and his blood turned the berries from white to red. There are also stories told that holly grew under Jesus’ footsteps. Regardless, they certainly bring a little freshness and greenery into the home during the long nights and cold days over the holidays.
While you might think that poinsettias are a recent phenomenon over the holidays, they too have a story behind them. Hailing from Mexico, the bright red plant was brought to the US by Dr Joel Poinsett in 1828. The story that came with this beautiful plant was that a poor, young child (some say girl, others boy) went to visit their local nativity scene, but had no gift to bring. The child gathered bright green weeds and laid them beside the manger. During the service, the weeds transformed into the brilliant red, star-shaped leaves of the poinsettia. The meaning derived was that a gift offered from the heart is an act of great humility.
But what about the biggest green symbol of them all for Christmas – the Christmas tree itself? The Christmas tree holds a special place in the hearts of people, both young and old. The tradition of decorating trees goes back many years as well. In fact, the decorating of evergreen trees was probably initiated in Germany around the 16th century. These first trees were decorated with apples, roses, candies, gold and coloured paper. It wasn’t until the 17th century that lights were introduced (I shudder to think of all those candles lit in a tree’s boughs). There are those that have linked Christmas trees to the ancient customs around Paradise Trees as well. Paradise Trees were involved in plays depicting Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden. You can see where the apples come in, I’m sure.
Whatever you decorate your home with though, we at CLC Tree Services wish you the best of the season. There are only 15 days left to Christmas now!