o the holly she bears a berry*

Is she the genesis of the green & red tradition? Theories abound.

Holly, the most important of the English evergreens, with its glossy green leaves and clusters of brilliant scarlet berries, is closely connected with the festivities of Christmas.

Here's a tiny bit of holly lore (along with my own mini-tribute to the green & red in quick snaps - random still lifes shot this morning in our living room):

Christmas decorations are said to be derived from a custom observed by the Romans of sending boughs, accompanied by other gifts, to their friends during the festival of the Saturnalia, a custom the early Christians adopted. A subsequent edict of the Church of Bracara forbade Christians from decorating their houses at Christmas with green boughs at the same time as the pagans, the Saturnalia commencing about a week before Christmas. The origin of yule-decor has also been traced to the Druids, who decorated their huts with evergreens during winter, providing shelter to the fairies.

An old legend declares that the holly first sprang up under the footsteps of Christ, and its thorny leaves and scarlet berries, like drops of blood, are considered symbolic of His sufferings; the tree is called 'Christ's Thorn' in northern European countries. It's perhaps in connection with these legends that the tree was called the Holy Tree, as it is generally named by older English writers. Turner, for instance, refers to it by this name in his Herbal, published in 1568. Holly is known by other names: Hulver, Holme, Hulver Bush, Holme Chase.

Pliny describes holly under the name of Ilex aquifolium, needle leaf. He notes that when holly is planted near a house or farm, the dwelling is defended from lightning and witchcraft; the flowers cause water to freeze, and the wood, if thrown at any animal, even without touching it, has the property of compelling the animal to return and lie down by it. Yowzah.

*The Chieftains' album, The Bells of Dublin. Blissmas.


Luisa Perkins said...

The red and green photo essay makes me miss you even more. So many blissmas memories....

katiedid said...

I love hearing about how traditions start. Thanks!