Oh, it’s that time of the year again when the holly and ivy send warm Christmas greetings to our homes! But have you ever wondered why we have this tradition in Ireland? Get to know it here and get excited to spread Christmas cheer with these adorable plants!
The Holly And The Ivy Plants
Shiny green leaves, wavy margins, sharp spines and adorable red berries – these are the features that define the holly plant. It is a broad-leaved, slow-growing tree which can range from a spreading dwarf bush to trees which are 70 feet tall. Holly plants can vary in shapes such as rounded, pyramidal or columnar. Its spiny dense canopy can be used for protection, serving as shelter for birds or from grazing animals.
The ivy plant, on the other hand, is a versatile plant which can be easily trained to grow in a certain way. It can be a climbing plant which tightly grips the surfaces it climbs, or it can spread out over the ground blanketing stretches of woodland floor. Growing well in damp Irish conditions, it is an invaluable plant for wildlife. It produces groups of small yellow-green flowers in autumn, followed by dark purple-black berries in the late winter or early spring. It provides cover for nesting birds, shelter for insects, and a rich source of nectar to bees during autumn.
Holly And Ivy At Christmas
In Ireland, holly and ivy are used to transform our homes during the festive Christmas season. Christmas cards often display red-berried holly plants. These are also hung as Christmas wreaths to brighten up doorways. More frequently, they are laid on graves at Christmas time. Aside from the festive colours they bring into the home, holly and ivy plants are also inexpensive and easy decor as they can be snipped from vegetation growing nearby.
You surely have tried singing to the song… “The Holly and the Ivy”! Here we see how the features of the plant relate to Christmas symbolically. The prickly leaves of the holly plant stand for the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during his crucifixion. The bright berries remind us of the drops of blood which he shed because of these prickly thorns. The ivy with its need to cling to something for support as it grows, becomes a reminder of ones dependence to God.
Why People Bring Holly and Ivy Into Their Homes At Christmas
Due to the spikes of the holly, it was believed to have amazing spiritual attributes to guard against witchcraft and evil. These are usually placed on doors and windows to capture evil spirits and prevent them from coming into the house.
Having holly plants around and inside the home also made it a haven for fairies and for bringing in good fortune. Fairies were believed to guard the house against evil forces. But only when snippets of the plant are taken. Bad luck was thought to happen if a full tree was instead cut down. Celtic beliefs held on to the protective power of the holly. Celtic chieftains are crowned with wreaths of holly, and newborn babies are usually bathed in water soaked and boiled in holly leaves.
Some also believe that if holly was the first evergreen plant to make its way into the house at Christmas, then the man would rule the roost for the coming year. Because of this, women usually have ivy plants gathered first before the holly.
But whether you come to believe in some or all of these, who can deny the bright cheers and warm feelings brought about by these holly and ivy plants which have come to remind us of the Christmas season? These plants have lived on for years to create meaning and life to our Christmas traditions. As surely as our feasts remain, these festive decors will certainly continue to be part of our merry, merry Christmas!