When Christmas comes around each year we decorate our homes with a Christmas tree and decorations we bring down from the attic, each year adding a special new bauble or sparkly trinket we may have found in the shops. But do you ever stop to think where this tradition came from? All the decorations we put up at Christmas have their origins in nature and the significance of the plants people in years gone by brought inside at this time of year. What is the significance of some of our more traditional decorations like the Christmas tree and the greenery some of us still bring into our homes from the garden or countryside?
Adorning the home with special decorations at Christmas has a long tradition. From as early as pre-Christian times, people have brought greenery inside to decorate houses and places of worship. Early Christians took the heart shaped leaves of ivy to represent the coming to earth of Jesus and the thorny holly plant was brought indoors as protection against witches and evil spirits. In pagan times holly and ivy symbolised masculinity and femininity. The holly was believed to be the male plant and the ivy the female plant. The tradition was that whichever was brought into the house first foretold who was to rule the house for the following year! Mistletoe has a long tradition at Christmas time. The early druids knew it as a remedy for infertility and this is reflected in today’s romantic tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. The Celts saw all three as a symbol of hope and rebirth and they were believed to bring protection during the long dark months of winter.
The tradition of the Yule log has its origins in the Viking mid-winter festival called Yule which later became combined with Christmas and the pagan winter solstice. The tradition involved bringing inside a huge single log which would be kept burning in the grate for the full twelve days of the festivities. Tradition stated that the log should either come from your own land or be given as a gift.
Today most of us see the significance of the Christmas tree and its decorations as a Christian tradition. But the greenery we bring indoors has its roots in paganism. The Christmas tree was used in the pagan ritual of winter solstice which involved the use of evergreen boughs and a form of tree worship. According to Christian belief, the evergreen tree symbolised eternal life, with the red berries of the holly as a symbol of the blood of Christ. The modern tradition of bringing a tree indoors at Christmas originated in Germany in the early nineteenth century, but became most popular in the UK in Victorian times. Victorians loved Christmas with all its pomp and ceremony and would often bring huge tree specimens inside in large garden planters which could then be transferred back into the garden to see out the rest of the year when the festivities were over.
The displaying of wreaths on doors during Christmas has its origins in Christian belief. The concentric arrangement of evergreen leaves is associated with the onset of Advent. Other plants which have become associated with Christmas include the poinsettia, a native plant from Mexico, which first became popular in the nineteenth century. Also popular are red amaryllis and Christmas cactus. Both plants again probably became popular at this time of year because of their green and red colours.
All of us are of course aware of the superstition which demands that all Christmas decorations are taken down on Twelfth Night, the evening of the 5 January, in order to avoid ill luck for the coming year!
Garden Planters source unusual outdoor and indoor planters, and other garden related gifts – whatever your taste, be it traditional, modern or just a bit quirky, we will have something for you. Run by two qualified and creative gardeners, Garden Planters will also plant up your chosen planter with an arrangement of your choice. We believe garden planters are an integral part of any garden – they enhance the overall design and say a little something about the person to whom the garden belongs.