Holly has been celebrated as a Christmas plant for centuries, but it actually began it’s fame as an important tradition of pagan celebration. Originally holly was presented as a sacred offering to the God Saturn by the Romans. They celebrated a winter Solstice feast known as Saturnalia where holly was exchanged as a symbol of goodwill. Ancient Druids believed holly to be the Sun’s most favored plant and wore it in ceremonial headgear when going into the forest.. Holly became widely used inside European homes to ward off witchcraft and evil spirits.
As Christianity established a foothold in the Roman Empire, Saturnalia gave way to Christmas and the practice of reverence to holly was forbidden. Regardless, holly began to be incorporated in Christian decorations, art, and celebrations. Holly was hung on doors to ward off unforeseeable misfortune and persecution (hence the birth of the Christmas wreath). Today holly, whose pagan origin has been long disregarded, has become the symbol of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus when on the cross; The prickly leaves pierced His forehead and the red berries represent drops of blood. In German legend the holly berries were originally yellow but were stained red from Christ’s blood during the crucifixion and that holly grew in His footsteps.
The reverence of holly was not limited to Christians, many cultures around the world – as far spread as China, Africa and Japan- incorporated holly to adorn their homes with wreaths, their bodies and hair with berries and their alters with garlands . Some Native Americans used holly medicinally to cleanse internally before sacred rituals and to alleviate pain in childbirth.
It’s easy to understand why the world loves the noble holly plant. As an evergreen it’s shiny green serrated leaves and it’s lush red berries make a welcome splash of color in an otherwise drab winter landscape.
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