Grab a cup of something warm, sit back, relax and take a look at some of the traditional holiday plants that you might have in your house. Have you ever wondered why we have some of the plants that we do? The traditions and legends are very interesting. Most played an important role in ancient ceremonies and have evolved into traditions associated with Christmas.
The most popular tradition, of course, is the Christmas tree. Pagen religions of northern Europe believed the evergreen tree possessed godlike powers and symbolized everlasting life. The tradition of bringing a tree inside began in Germany in the seventeenth century. Immigrants from Germany brought the tradition to America. The Germans also manufactured and imported beautiful glass ornaments.
Mistletoe was thought to influence human fertility.Kissing under the mistletoe supposedly increased the possibility of marriage the following year. Druids believed that mistletoe was a sacred plant and a symbol of eternal life. It was also thought to bring health and good luck. Mistletoe has has been used to treat ailments from gout and epilepsy to rabies, but the berries are poisonous so remove them, especially if you have small children or pets. Roman custom thought of it as a symbol of peace.
The Poinsettia is native to Mexico. A Mexican legend tells of how a small boy had no gift for the Christ Child until this special plant appeared at his feet. It is referred to as the Flower of the Holy Night. Joel Robert Poinsett, the first ambassador to Mexico, brought the Poinsettia to the United States.
During the winter solstice, the ancient Romans used holly to honor Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Teutonic people placed holly in their houses to ward off unwanted spirits and bad winter weather. As Christianity became dominant, holly became a symbol of Christmas.
Wassailing is a tradition that was once an important horticultural ritual in England that focused on apple orchards. The date for wassailing varies, but is done during the 12 days of Christmas. Friends go from house to house, caroling, eating, drinking, and visiting orchards where they poured liquor over the roots of the tree, sang songs, recited poetry and fired guns to scare away the evil spirits.
Bells are a holdover from pagan ceremonies. In the dead of winter, when the days were short, it was believed that the spirits were very powerful and only a lot of noise could scare them away. Today, the bells of Christmas ring not to drive away evil spirits, but to welcome the spirit of Christmas with a joyful noise.
Merry Christmas, and may peace bless us all.