Christmas Plant Legends

By Patti Elwell

While decorating my Christmas tree this year, I came across a 20+ year old article from and old Flower & Garden magazine that talked about Christmas plant legends.  As you decorate your home in the weeks ahead, it is interesting to know that many of the plants used today are steeped in ancient history and lore. Enjoy these excerpts:

Evergreen boughs have been used as throughout history since they were considered “plants that did not die” and were brought in to homes to encourage fortune and good health.  “Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, is generally given credit for bringing the modern day version of the Christmas tree to England and North America.  He brought to the palace the German custom of bringing a cut evergreen tree indoors and trimming it with candles and decorations,” and the tradition became much publicized.

Holly is known as “Christ-Thorn” in Scandinavia, and was a sacred tree long before Christian times.  The Romans used it  in their Saturnalia festival, the forerunner of Christmas as we know it today.  Holly has long been used in church decorations, but must never be brought in before Christmas Eve.  Twelfth Night was the day for taking it down, and the rule was that every last sprig should be burned, except for one small piece which could be hung in the cowshed to protect the animals from harm  Holly was believed to be a useful deterrent against witches and other evil influences.  Country people used to say it was a good tree to have in the garden, especially if self-sown, but that it should never be cut or trimmed.  It was said to be a symbol of domestic peace and also of eternal life.

Rosemary, a common seasoning today, was once a Christmas plant, associated with remembrance, friendship, and fidelity.  “During the Middle Ages, housewives spread it on the floor at Christmas. As people walked on it, a pleasant aroma arose.  It was also used in medieval England to garnish the boar’s head at the Christmas feast.  One related tale refers to the Virgin Mary’s flight into Egypt.  Mary is said to have thrown her cloak over the bush, which caused the rosemary flowers, formerly white, to take on the same delicate shade of blue as the cloke.  Another old Legend says that the rosemary blooms at midnight on Christmas Eve.

When you hang your Christmas wreath, you will be decorating your home as other homes and churches have all over the world for centuries.  “The wreath’s shape, a circle, is the symbol of eternity, while evergreen boughs are one of the oldest symbols of eternal life.  Decorated with fruits, seeds and flowers, the Wreath becomes a symbol of the cycle of the seasons.”

Another legend goes that as Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus fled to Egypt many plants hid them. One evening the family stopped near a large old pine tree. The tree invited them to spend the night inside the hollow in its trunk. After the family was inside, the tree folded its branches down around the family, hiding them when Herod’s soldiers passed. In the morning the Christ Child blessed the pine tree with an imprint of his tiny hand. If you cut a pinecone in half lengthwise, you will see the hand in the cone.

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