Holiday Plants and Their Stories

Holiday Plants and Their Stories
During the winter months the landscape is transformed with the use of holiday plants. Here are the stories behind their use.

The holiday traditions may vary from one country to another. For many in America, the most important decoration is the Christmas tree. Around 35 million real trees are sold every year. Oregon may be No. 1 when it comes to growing Christmas trees, but western North Carolina can’t be far behind. The most popular kinds of trees are Douglas fir, Noble fir, Fraser fir, Scotch pine, white pine, or Virginia pine.

For that tree most people prefer heirloom ornaments that are handed down from one generation to another.

Before folks had Christmas trees there was the Paradise Tree used in Europe during medieval times. This fir tree was decorated with red apples to celebrate Adam and Eve Day on Dec. 24th.

Christmas trees only arrived in America during the 1800’s via Germany. German mercenaries who took part in the Revolutionary War were the first to use them in America. The first recorded sales were in 1851 when trees were hauled from the Catskills to New York City. And the rest is history.

Meanwhile in England Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, gave his stamp of approval, and royalty began having Christmas trees. Victorians also used another plant, ardisia, as a holiday tree. In warmer regions of the U.S. this plant is used as a ground cover or dwarf evergreen shrub. Its long-lasting red berries ripen in the fall, which was why it was chosen for the holidays.

Long before the Christians chose to commemorate the birth of Christ on Dec. 25th, people celebrated the season. Some of these customs were later adopted by the Christian faith. The 25th of December was only chosen in the fourth century because it was also the date on which a rival pagan religion, called Mithraism, held its major festivities. Prior to that the ancient Egyptians celebrated with palm branches in the month of December as a symbol of growing, living things.

Later the Romans trimmed trees with trinkets around the same time. At the top of the tree they would place a symbol of Saturnalia, the sun god.

Numerous other plants are associated with the holiday. Take holly, for example. The Romans used to give each other branches of holly as symbols of friendship during Saturnalia, which occurs just before the winter solstice.

Mistletoe is a very special plant. Now the most common use is to make kissing balls, but this is a fairly recent addition to the Christmas tradition. It only began in Victorian times. Originally mistletoe was used by the ancient Druids. A silver knife was used to cut it from oak trees. In Sweden, farmers protected horses and cows from evil trolls by hanging mistletoe in the stall and cribs of barns.

Wreaths also date from ancient Roman times. Celts and Druids also used them. For these people the wreath represented the never-ending cycle of life. Later wreaths became a part of the Christmas tradition when Lutherans began using them in the 16th century as a symbol for the love of God, which they perceived as having no end or no beginning.

A wreath became part of the Advent ceremony. On that occasion a wreath is placed on a table with five candles, four of which are violet. One is white. Each week before Christmas a violet one is lit. The white one burns on Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Though the Yule log is a traditional part of Christmas, it has its origin in pagan Europe. But European Christians were using it by the12th century.

Though we now use the poinsettia as decorations, it was adopted by the Catholic Church in 17th century Mexico as a part of the Advent season. The plants happen to bloom around Christmas, so Mexicans brought them to decorate the churches, which is how Mexican clergy learned about the plant. Poinsettia was introduced to the U.S. in 1825 when Joel Poinsett, a U.S. ambassador to Mexico, returned to his home with one of the plants.

Now poinsettias come in an amazing array of colors. But the original red fitted in perfectly with the traditional colors of Christmas. Red represents the blood of Christ, while the Christian belief in eternal life through Christ is symbolized by green. Green also represents the continuatio

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This content was written by Connie Krochmal. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Connie Krochmal for details.