What is the significance that they hold at this time of year and how have they grown to be such an important part of the festivities?
There are many traditions concerning winter plants, berries, and shrubs that have become known to us through the Christmas songs that we enjoy every festive season.
It`s easy to take for granted how holly and ivy, for example, found their way into the verses of the seasonal carols and hymns we have come to love.
However, there is always an interesting history behind everything.
The likes of waxy, prickly-edged holly and dark green climbing ivy go together quite happily and were used in pagan times to mark the Winter Solstice. As with many traditions, the use of these plants was changed as Christianity spread across Europe.
It was then adopted to represent Christian symbols with holly, the thorns of the crown that Jesus wore at his crucifixion and its berries – his drops of blood.
Ivy needs support in order to grow so its symbolism was that of clinging onto God for strength in our lives.
Victory and everlasting life
Laurel has been associated with triumph for millennia and slowly became associated with the victory of God over the devil at Christmas.
Evergreens, fir and yew trees are connected with the concept of eternal life reached through communion with God.
Although nowadays rosemary is a popular herb all year round, as a herb it is associated with remembrance and is often used at Christmas as the symbol of marking the birth of Christ.
Wreaths and Mistletoe
The origin of the beautiful green wreathes which adorn doors over the festive period is a little obscure, however. A wreath hanging on the door in ancient Roman and Greek times was a symbol of victory. Wreaths were also worn as head-dresses by Roman women from high society and the emperor`s wreaths are now famous.
It is often thought that Christmas wreaths have some link to prestige lost in the mists of time or have their roots in pagan times.
Before Christianity spread, people would make wreaths during the winter to symbolize how they had strength in unity – enabling them to face the hazards of the cold together. The circle is also known as a symbol of eternal life.
Mistletoe and kissing are equally obscure although there is a Scandinavian myth whereby the poisonous plant was used as a peace offering after a goddess’ heart was broken after the plant killed her son.