Proper Use of Holly Greenery
Considering that holly was so powerful, it was seen as terribly important to use it safely and dispose of it in the proper way. Doing otherwise might bring consequences. According to Geoffrey Grigson, author of The Englishman’s flora, a farmer in Northern Ireland made the mistake of using branches to clean his chimney. As a result, he ended up with a poltergeist in his house.
Much of the lore concerns holly’s ties to bad luck when it is mishandled. Stepping on a berry or bringing flowering branches into the house was seen as a source of bad luck. When hanging Christmas greenery, people were supposed to hang the mistletoe first. Putting the holly up first could bring bad luck down the chimney. Holly wasn’t to be cut any other time of the year. People believed it was bad luck to bring it in the house before Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
Holly could even play a role in the relationship between spouses. Whichever spouse brought the holly first into the house would be the spouse that would rule the coming year.
Proper Disposal of Holly
There were differing views and methods on the proper disposal of holly after the holidays. When done the wrong way, it could bring bad luck. Some fed it to cattle. People were advised to only burn a small amount. A sprig was saved to light the fire under the Christmas pudding the following year. Burning holly while it was still green was inadvisable as this could bring an unwanted visitor-Death. Others left it to decay. Taking it down earlier than January 6th was also said to cause bad luck.
The Rivalry Between Holly and Ivy
In Northern Europe and England people believed that the holly and ivy were involved in a rivalry. The two plants were said to signify the differences between the male and female side of nature. The holly symbolized the male and the ivy the female. Apparently this idea might have originated with the pagans and survived the rise of Christianity. At any rate the idea of the purported rivalry has survived for centuries.
The relationship between holly and ivy has been memorialized in songs with one of these being by Henry VIII. The most famous of the songs is likely The Holly and the Ivy. This was also called the St. Day Carol in Cornwall. This song is included on the CD by the Christmas Revels. It has several verses with one referring to the flowers, another to the berries, and another to the prickles. The last deals with the bitter bark. All of these verses refer either to Jesus or Mary. The refrain is “the holly and the ivy when they are both full grown of all the trees that are in the wood the holly bears the crown. “