How well do you know your Christmas decorations and the history they represent? Holly, that bright green and red symbol of all things Christmas, actually has a long history, dating back to ancient civilizations and bringing plenty of rich stories and tradition along with it. As you begin to decorate for the coming holiday season, the floral experts at Mission Viejo Florist are happy to share our knowledge of this seemingly-unassuming plant that holds so much meaning.
Holly in Ancient Cultures
Before holly was hung in houses to accompany Christmas trees, it was considered to be a sacred plant by the Druids. While other plants wilted in winter weather, holly remained green and strong, its berries a brightly colored red in the harshest of conditions.
The Druids regarded holly as a symbol of fertility and eternal life, thought to have magical powers. In Druid lore, cutting down a holly tree would bring bad luck. In contrast, hanging the plant in homes was believed to bring good luck and protection. Holly was also thought to protect homes against lightning strikes. Romans associated holly with Saturn, the god of agriculture and harvest, and decked the halls with its boughs during the festival of Saturnalia.
Holly Is Associated with Christmas
Early Christian calendars mark Christmas Eve as templa exornatur, meaning “churches are decked,” though supposedly Saturnalia celebrators didn’t allow some Christians to hang boughs in honor of Christmas. Christians adopted the holly tradition from Druid, Celtic and Roman traditions, and its symbolism changed to reflect Christian beliefs.
Today, Christians consider holly symbolic of Jesus Christ in two ways. The red berries represent the blood that Jesus shed on the cross on the day he was crucified. Legend states that holly berries were originally white, but that the blood Christ shed for the sins of humankind stained the berries forever red. A holly’s pointed leaves symbolize the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head before he died on the cross.
Holly is known as “christdorn” in German, meaning “Christ thorn.” Both of these symbols are meant to serve as a reminder to Christians of Jesus’ suffering, but they aren’t the only stories tying holly to Jesus. One claims that the cross on which Jesus was crucified was constructed of holly. Another says that holly sprang up from his footsteps. Less common symbolism includes the holly’s white blossoms representing purity, and the idea that if the holly used to decorate a home for Christmas is prickly, the man will rule the house for the coming year; but if the holly used is smooth, the woman will rule.
Orchids and Berries Bouquet
Cinnamon Basket Bouquet
Holly as Modern Holiday Decor
Knowing now how pervasive holly is throughout history in winter celebrations, it’s no wonder we continue to include it in our biggest winter festival each year. The beauty of this magnificent tree coupled with the long list of stories and legends that come with it make holly a beautiful symbol of Christmas. We love to include holly in our holiday designs, as well. Our Orchids and Berries bouquet pairs the bright red holly berries with white orchids for a pop of color and a dazzling look. Our Cinnamon Basket bouquet uses holly and other natural elements to bring a rustic woodland look to the design. Our Holiday Centerpiece features holly leaves and berries among other reds and wintergreens for a delightful tabletop display.
Bring the magic of holly to your Christmas decor this season with wreaths, floral arrangements, centerpieces and more. The rich meaning behind this festive tree adds layers of tradition to any holiday display. Plus, as December’s official birth “flower,” holly can make a beautiful gift to loved ones who celebrate their birthday this time of year. For more creative ways to include holly in your decor, or to learn more about its rich history, talk to the floral designers at Mission Viejo Florist. We’re happy to share our insight and expertise with you as you prepare for the holidays this year.