H is for Holly

Tuesday 6 December 2011

No, not that Holly! This holly.

To the pagan peoples of Europe, evergreens possessed magical powers; how else was it that the holly, fir and ivy stayed green and kept their leaves in the depths of winter when other plants vanished and trees were left as leafless skeletons compared to the green glory of summer?

So, understandably, in the freezing depths of winter, when all other life seemed to have disappeared from the world, these same pagan peoples brought evergreens into their homes, partly in the hope that some of their magical protection might rub off on them.

Our Roman ancestors considered evergreens lucky and during the feast of Saturnalia they too decorated their homes with boughs of holly and the like. And thanks to their connections with the concept of eternal life, it is easy to see how evergreens came to be such a central part of the Christian feast of Christmas, seeing as how the Church teaches that Jesus rose from the dead to eternal life himself, and offers the same to his faithful servants.

The presence of evergreen plants in the home during the festive season has lived on in several forms; through the Christmas tree, carols such as ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ and ‘Deck the hall with bough of holly’, and of course with the Christmas wreath.

The tune of ‘Deck the Hall’ is Welsh and dates back to the sixteenth century, although it originally belonged to a winter carol, 'Nos Galan'. However, I'll warrant you've never heard it sung quite like this before...

Did you know...?
The most popular girl's name in December 2008 was... Holly! The Office for National Statistics published its findings and overall, throughout the year, Holly came 22nd on the list of most popular girls' names. And a suitably seasonal names for a boy, Gabriel, was a high climber, up 14 places to the number 78 slot.

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You will find many other such tasty morsels of information in my book What is Myrrh Anyway? - and its American counterpart Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas.


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