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Christmas Holly ... a tradition of the ages

St Nicholas, traditional carols, the Christmas tree, brightly ribboned packages and the oldest of all our holiday traditions, Holly ... sparkle the season with its gay and festive air. And how did the lovely holly tree decorated with shiny red berries become a part of this season? It is a tradition older than Christianity itself. The ancient Celts used berried boughs of holly to ward off the evil spirits of the forest and guard their homes against thunderstorms. Later the mystical Druids brought holly plants into their homes to give refuge to the wood sprites and fairies left homeless with the falling leaves of autumn. In Rome, when the festival of Saturnalia began on the 17th of December, the people gathered boughs of holly and evergreens to decorate their homes and temples for the season. And it was in Germany that the belief of Christ's crown was of holly came to be. They that hat His blood had stained the berries red for eternity. And to honor Him, the symbolic Christmas wreath became part of our tradition. Holly is not native to the Pacific Northwest. Holly shrubbery and seeds sailed round the Horn from England just before the Civil War as part of the treasured belongings of the settlers. The climate proved to be ideal and the Oregon Country became the new home of English or Christmas holly. And the age old tradition of holly as a festive holiday decoration became a part of the American scene.

Holly Folklore and Legends excerpts from Harry William Dengler

There are few groups of trees and shrubs which possess such a fascinating and diverse background as do those plants which belong to the genus Ilex or as they are more commonly called hollies. Since the days of the Romans, the Greeks and the Druids, and the Indians of the Americas, holly has played an exciting part in medicine and magic, science and superstition, and legend and lore. Much of our present day folklore of medicines, superstitions and Christmas customs comes from the practices and beliefs of the early Britons. These can be traced further to the Druids, an order of priests, teachers, philosophers, and astronomers of ancient Britain and Gaul who lived some two thousand years ago. They believed that the sun never deserted the holly tree ( Ilex aquifolium) and to their custom to decorate the interiors of their dwelling-places with evergreens in which the woodland spirits might take refuge from the rigors of winter. Holly has long been symbolic of Christmas. The name is believed to be a corruption of the word "holy", although many historians differ on the point. William Turner, the earliest English writer on plants in his herbal of 1568, calls the tree "Holy" and the "Holytree". In parts of Italy, sprigs of holly were used in decorating the mangers in commemoration of the Infant Saviour. In Germany, holly is called Christdorn - the thorn woven into the crown of the crucifixion. Legend has it that the berries of the holly were once yellow, but being stained from the wounds of Christ, have ever since remained red. Among the old Pennsylvania Dutch, the holly berries represented the blood of Christ issuing from His wounds, and the white flowers of the holly tree were symbolic of the purity in which He was conceived.