The Christmas Rose

The Christmas Rose
Long associated with Christmas, the Christmas rose isn’t a rose and isn’t even related to its namesake. The plant is sometimes called winter rose. It has also been known as snow rose because it appears in the snow and is unharmed by snow and ice.

Native to Egypt, the evergreen perennial is also called black hellebore due to the black root, which is poisonous. It was so named Christmas rose because it can bloom during winter.

The use of this plant reportedly dates to the Neolithic era. Depending on the climate, Christmas rose blossoms can appear anywhere from fall to spring. However, it can be forced to bloom in time for Christmas.

The folklore of this plant isn’t all sweetness and light. Perceived as possessing great powers in the past, in Europe it was often planted outside doorways as a means of protecting residents from evil spirits, magicians, and witches. Historically, the petals were used as a strewing herb for the same reason.

The plant has been used for medicinal purposes, but is considered quite poisonous. Yet, it has been used to treat various conditions. However, death can result when people take the plant internally.

A number of myths and folk tales relate to this plant’s role at Christmas. In one version, hellebores appeared from the stars that fell from the sky on the night of the birth of Jesus.

According to legend, the plant became associated with Christmas after either a young country girl or a shepherd girl cried because she had no gift for the baby in the manger. An angel appeared and turned her tears into hellebore petals and called the girl’s attention to the flowers in the snow. In some versions of the story, the shepherd girl is named Madelon. According to legends, the flowers were initially white when presented to the baby, but developed pink tinges wherever the baby’s hands touched them.

In the French version of the story, the flowers appeared in winter in answer to a dim witted lad’s prayers. He needed something to decorate the church at Christmas, and these appeared just in time. In France, the Christmas rose has been especially popular, and was traditionally used to decorate the Christmas table.

In a Swedish tale, the flower was the only survivor of a magical paradise garden that had disappeared.

Sometimes, this flower has been called flower of St. Agnes. The church pays honor to her on the January 21st, which is her feast day. She was considered a patron of purity. She became a martyr at the age of thirteen for professing her faith in 300 A.D.

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