A common feature of these plants is that they are evergreen, representing life, rebirth, and everlasting life in pagan tradition. It is easy to understand how these features can equally be applied in the Christian tradition. In this article, we'll look at some of the favourites.
The history of the Christmas tree can be traced back to Scandinavia before Christianity, with the practice of bringing evergreens into the home at the winter solstice and decorating them with candles to ward off evil spirits.
This practice became more popular and widespread from 16th Century Germany and becoming popular elsewhere during the 19th Century. Britain got involved during the 1830s and 40! It is said that the triangular shape of the Christmas tree represents the trinity recognised in Christianity.
In the present day, this is one of the most popular Christmas plant favourites in western society.
Holly has a long history of being used at Christmas time. It was a popular plant to decorate the home in Pagan times, providing shelter for friendly spirits, and symbolising eternal life and fertility.
In Roman times, boughs of holly were used or given to celebrate Saturnalia (17-23 December). The Christian church has at times forbidden its use but also adopted it with its own symbolism, the red berries representing Christ's blood and the pointy leaves his crown of thorns.
Holly's friend - Ivy - often partnered in songs as well as in Christmas decorations and wreaths. It too has a long tradition of symbolising protection and fertility. Perhaps because of its ability to cling to trees and walls to gain height, it is also used as a symbol of fidelity.
It is also symbolic of healing with medicine made from its leaves and used to treat some respiratory conditions. Of course, the berries are not edible and the leaves can cause irritation to skin so the medicinal properties have been extracted through other means.
Ivy leaves change shape as they mature, and in the Christian tradition, the mature leaf is said to resemble the shape of Christ's crown.
A comparatively more exotic and recent addition to the Christmas party, is the poinsettia or Euphorbia pulcherrima, originating from Mexico and Central America (pictured at the top of this page). With the green and red leaves aligning with the festive colour palette, this plant has become more popular as a festive decoration in the home in the UK.
This colourful plant can be stunning for a few weeks and then often struggle, with many finding it hard to keep them looking their best - follow these tips for keeping your poinsettia alive after the Christmas holidays are over.
Mistletoe is an evergreen parasitic plant that lives on and feeds off trees. The name derives from Anglo-Saxon ‘mistle’ meaning dung and ‘toe’ meaning twig, as the seeds often germinate and grow in bird droppings on tree branches. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe originated in ancient Greece, as part of Saturnalia celebrations, as the plant was associated with fertility.
In Northern Europe, it has also been associated with love, peace and goodwill, as well as protection from evil spirits. It is perhaps the only Christmas plant that seems to have not been adopted by the Christian church. Mistletoe is another plant that has been found to have some medical properties but it is toxic for humans and pets to consume it so keep it out of reach!
Historically it seems that people around the world have celebrated the winter solstice and the time when days start becoming longer again. During this time culturally, people have turned to evergreen plants as symbols of continuing growth and survival during the winter months, bringing them inside being a widespread practice.
As this a time of food scarcity, these plants have generally evolved ways of protecting themselves from would-be feeders by producing toxins and/or physical protection, for example – spiky holly leaves. We should bear this in mind when bringing these plants indoors around children and pets and especially with the toxic berries of holly and mistletoe.
Enjoy your Christmas plants this year - whichever you choose!