18 December 2007

Holidays & Celebrations:
Holly, Ivy & Mistletoe Rraditions

By Erastes

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.

Oh, the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The shining of the winter stars
As the longer days draw near.

The holly bears a blossom
As white as any flower
As our Mother bears the infant Sun
In the winter's darkest hour.

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
As our Father bears the hunter's spear
for His hungry children's good.

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn
As we shall bear our song of hope
On triumphant Yuletide morn.

The Christian festival of Christmas has overtaken the Pagan feasts that commemorated the Winter Solstice, where the darkening nights finally turned lighter and people celebrated the Sun God's return, who made the skies lighter in morning and evening. Ancient beliefs held that bringing the eternal life of evergreens kept away the seemingly death bringing evil spirits and since time immemorial people have been bringing holly, ivy and mistletoe into their houses, and now it has blended into the Christian tradition. Today we still hang a wreath on our front doors.


The Romans used holly during their Solstice celebration, known as Saturnalia and it had a close association with the God Dionysus.

Holly boughs were given as gifts during Saturnalia as it was believed to protect against lightning strikes and ward off evil spirits.

The Romans used Ivy as part of celebrations related to the god Bacchus, whose worshippers were thought to have worn Ivy crowns.

The Holly and Ivy represented the unity between the dual halves of divinity the Holly was the Goddess and was feminine while the Ivy was the eternal consort to the goddess and there fore was masculine in nature.

Folk Lore

In Germany, it is traditional that Ivy is only used outside and a piece tied to the outside of a Church was supposed to protect it from lightning!

Holly was thought to be a male plant and Ivy a female plant. An old tradition from the Midlands in England says that whatever one brought into the house first over winter, tells you whether the man or woman of the house would rule that year!! It is considered unlucky to bring either into a house before Christmas Eve, as it contained sprites which were unkind at any other time of year.

For hundreds of years before the birth of Christ the ancient Druids used mistletoe to celebrate the winter solstice.

Mistletoe: The druids regarded the mistletoe as the most sacred of plants. They made certain that it never touched the ground and it was dedicated to the Goddess of Love which is the Druid explanation of kissing under it.

Originally, when a boy kissed a girl, he plucked a berry from the cluster and presented it to her. When there were no more berries, there were no more kisses. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe originally was a belief that the evergreen plant increases your sexual power or promotes fertility.

Another source of the love/mistletoe tradition comes from the Norse myths. Balder was son of Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son to such a degree that she had the four elements: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth- promise that they would not harm her son. However, Loki, an evil spirit, found the one thing that could defy this promise - mistletoe. He made an arrow from its wood, which was shot at Balder's heart, and he fell dead, and Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. Balder is however, restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant--making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.


Holly: The prickly leaves are said to represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. The berries are the drops of blood that were shed by Jesus because of the thorns. In Scandinavia it is known as the Christ Thorn.

Ivy: Ivy has to cling to something to support itself as it grows. This reminds Christians that they need to cling to God for support in their lives.

Mistletoe: Not so much Christian, but following on from the folkloric tradition, it still gains kisses at Christmas parties!

Merry Christmas to everyone!