Evergreen Christmas

  • Posted on 20th December 2016 by Guest - Emma
  • “Deck the hall with boughs of holly” and “The holly and the ivy” are two well-known Christmas carols.  What on earth do these evergreens have to do with the birth of little baby Jesus? Well, to be honest, very little!
    Trying to convert English pagans to Christianity was probably a difficult job and so to do so, a few ancient hard-to-give-up traditions needed to be kept in order for Christianity to be easier to accept.  This included evergreens, which were a source of fascination and mystery for man giving a sense of hope in the darkest days and a nod to the forthcoming Spring. How did they survive even the harshest winters? To ancient man, they appeared immortal and therefore were held in high regard.

    Mistletoe has been used as a midwinter decoration since the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons to Britain in the fifth century. Druids were convinced of its mystical powers to bring luck and ward off evil spirits. In Norse mythology, it was used as a sign of love and friendship and probably the reason why we use it as a "kissing bough." In the 18th Century, the wealthy would use this as the main decoration for the season. Two hoops were joined to make a globe, decorated with greenery, oranges, and apples. Mistletoe became more widely popular as it moved downstairs and became a tradition of the Victorian serving classes. Any man was allowed to kiss a woman who stood under mistletoe; it was considered bad luck to refuse a kiss.
    The Christmas tree is a wonderful example of the adoption of pagan beliefs into Christianity. Martin Luther (1483-1546), father of Protestantism was walking through a forest on a starlit night when he looked up. He was taken by the sight before him and thought that it looked as if the stars were sitting on the trees themselves and the tradition of decorating evergreens with stars and lights was born. This German tradition came over to England with the Georgian kings but only featured in aristocratic households. It was the depiction in The Illustrated London News of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert standing around a Christmas tree with their children by their side that popularised this tradition in the UK.
    Decorating homes with holly and ivy plants has been going on for thousands of years around Europe. They helped freshen the air in houses, the greenery filled people full of hope for Spring and the red berries also added a splash of colour. Along with other evergreens, holly and ivy were believed to have magical properties. In ancient cultures, the winds in the dark nights were thought to be demons and ghosts flying around. Decorating your home with holly and ivy could keep the evil spirits away. They were symbolic of the lengthening days and the start of the new season which made them popular and colourful for winter festivities. Over time, these customs became part of the Christmas celebration and are still used today – more for decorative reasons than for magical ones! 

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