The Holy Holly
edited: Sunday, December 01, 2013
By Linda E Allen
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Become a Fan
Have you ever wondered why we sing the seasonal "fa-la-la-la-la-la song dedicated to the holly plant? What's so special about holly and why do we decorate with it?
The custom began long ago when early peoples like the Druids and Romans used holly in their celebrations of Saturnalia or the winter solstice about December 22. Holly was the sacred plant of their god Saturn. They exchanged wreaths of holly and decked their halls with the plant in his honor.
Some people feared that when the days became shorter, the sun might never return. They noticed plants like the holly remained green all year. So they brought them into their homes to deck their halls as a kind of lucky charm to guarantee the sun would return.
Decking the halls of our churches is a Christmas tradition celebrated with the hanging of the greens service to inaugurate the season. But, holly wasn’t always accepted by or used in the church. Early Christian churches banned holly from celebrations because of its association with pagan cultures. Some brave Christians used it in their Nativity celebrations to outsmart the pagan authorities. They pretended to be participating in Saturnalia festivities with other Romans, but they were actually celebrating the birth of Christ.
The ban on holly was lifted in the 1600s because of legends about its role in the crucifixion. One story claims holly sprang up from Christ’s footsteps on His way to the crucifixion. His blood stained the white berries so they would forever be red. Another legend says the crown of thorns Christ wore on the cross was made from holly. Its sharp leaves pricked his forehead staining the berries red. Still another story states the crucifixion cross was made from the wood of the holly tree.
In religious symbolism, green means nature, youth, and the hope of eternal life. Red symbolizes fire, blood, and charity. The holly plant brings these images together in our traditions and seasonal decorations in our churches and in our homes.
For more stories and traditions about holly and other Christmas plants, check out Decking the Halls – the Folklore and Traditions of Christmas Plants - http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewwork.asp?id=50119