The Evergreens: Mystical and Magickal Within Christmas

Every year it starts the same: Slow and sure as the fading daylight as winter progresses the wreaths appear on door. Christmas trees appear in windows. Mistletoe mysteriously appears in odd places. Garlands of holly and ivy soon decorate many a table or doorway. The evergreens, those plants and trees which defy winter, start to appear in homes, in commercials, in stores. Holly, ivy, mistletoe, pine, yew … why are they such a part of our Christmas traditions?

Holly, ivy, pine and yew are largely, scientifically defined as ‘coniferous trees and shrubs’. However, science has nothing to do with how and why these plants and trees are an important part of Christmas. What will be discussed here is more about faith, spirituality and how we feel about life and the world. So, it seems it would be better to call these special plants by a better name: evergreens. And, evergreens have had symbolic meaning, and been a part of peoples traditions, dating back before the birth of Christianity. It would not be inaccurate to say the evergreens and humanity have grown up together.

Holly, Ivy and Evergreens Before Christianity

Ancient Romans sent holly wreaths to newlyweds as a blessing for good fortune and immortality. Holly is was also presented as a gift to wish someone well in life. Holly was a key decoration during the festival of Saturn which was held on or near the winter solstice. Ivy was also something that had special meanings to ancient Romans. Ivy was associated with the god of wine, Bacchus, and was used as a decoration. Ivy was thought to bring prosperity, rejuvenation and fidelity – women and girls would created laurels ivy in hopes of drawing to them a man worthy to become their husband . Wreaths of ivy would be hung on walls and in doorways to bring luck and success in both love and business.

evergreen garland and Christmas Traditions The Celts, likely influenced by the Druids, believed the evergreen plants were symbolic of renewal, rebirth, hope. During the dark and cold of winter, the evergreens like holly, ivy and evergreen trees stood unbowed by winter. The winter solstice, during the month of December, was a time for rejoicing that winter was suppose to end, but also great concern that winter may drag on threatening food supplies, fuel, survival. Bringing evergreens indoors was thought to provide a haven for woodland spirits from winter’s cold. Bringing holly, ivy, yew and mistletoe indoors in mid-winter was thought to ward off misfortune and bring protection and prosperity.

As Christianity and Christmas took hold of the traditions during winter, the meanings attributed to pre-Christian evergreens changed. In some cases, the church and orthodox Christians sought to outright ban what they saw as pagan rites involving greenery in winter. However, many places in Europe, especially in Germany and rural areas within Britain, proved stubborn. Locals were resistant about letting go of long held traditions involving evergreens during winter. Many Christians just changed the explanation for the traditions and the meaning behind the plants (a process often called this syncretism).

Suddenly, the prickly leaves of holly came to represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified and the red berries were drops of blood the crown of thorns produced on Jesus brow. The ivy plant became representational of how one must cling to God and God’s grace in order to grow upwards, otherwise one cannot grow upwards at all. The laurels worn in winter made of evergreens came to represent the victory of God, good, over evil. Never mind that laurels date back before Christianity, the original Olympic athletes received laurels for winning, not gold. The fir and yew wreaths with holly and mistletoe appearing within the home were about celebrating Christmas, even whole evergreen trees brought into the home and decorated near the winter solstice became Christmas trees.

Despite the arrival of Christianity, an appreciation for mystical power and symbolism of evergreens around the winter solstice by Europeans continued right into the medieval period (the medieval period ran approximately from the 5th century AD to the 15th century AD). During this period, men were considered the unquestioned dominant sex. It was a man’s responsibility to support the weaker and more delicate female. An expression of this with the evergreens during winter was to create a garland or wreath of holly and ivy. The rigid, prickly holly leaves (representing man or male energy) were woven together by ivy vines (representing the smoother, maternal woman). The plants themselves seemed a natural embodiments of masculine and feminine traits . The garland or wreath likely symbolized a harmonizing, a balancing of a man and a woman. It was considered ‘bad luck’ to only bring into the home just holly or just ivy.

Christianity in Europe, particularly in Great Britain, so embraced the symbolism of ivy and holly that one can hardly find an older church England where ivy and holly have not been planted around the church structure (a custom which appears to have begun around the 15th century). Ivy, in particular, became a symbol or charity and prosperity, reminding parishioners that giving a helping hand up to the down trodden is a Christian virtue.

Evergreens at Christmas Arrive in the Victorian Era

The Victorian era ran from 1837 to 1901. The influence of Victorianism lingers today. During the Victorian era in the United States and England, people looked for ways to celebrate Christmas. Prior to the Victorian era most Protestant churches frowned on Christmas celebrations and festivities. Why they felt this way is a story for another time. Pressure began to build for the churches and traditionalists, both Protestant and Catholic, to ‘lighten up’ and allow for Christmas to be celebrated within people’s homes. Charles Dickens published ‘A Christmas Story’ in 1843. The famous poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ was published 1823.

Soon, many of the ‘old ways’ of celebrating the winter solstice, and Christmas, began to reappeared in homes – wreaths, garlands, holly, evergreens, ivy, and, yes, Christmas trees. An argument can (and has been) made that even Santa Claus is a throwback to the god Odin riding through the skies in mid-winter. It started out as something the well-to-do, the wealthy, did at Christmas – putting up wreaths, putting festive garlands on tables and putting up beautifully decorated evergreen trees in living rooms and parlors. Slowly these traditions became something everyone wanted to be involved with in mid-winter.

Naturally, the Victorians had to make up rules about everything. For instance, it was proper etiquette to ONLY put up Christmas decorations on December 24th. It must have Victorians spinning in their graves to see Christmas lights being left up all year round. Gradually, the proper etiquette changed and it became allowable to put up Christmas decorations earlier, but no sooner than December 1st. People couldn’t wait to start putting up decorations, generally involving the evergreens – holly, ivy, yew, pine, mistletoe – putting the decoration not just on or around their home, but also within it.

Mistletoe and Christmas

The appearance of mistletoe in Victorian homes was made into game. Mistletoe was long associated with fertility and women. The ancient Roman historian Pliny the Elder in 77 AD would write about how mistletoe aided conception. A woman who wished to conceive should wear or carry mistletoe with her. Gradually this folklore became the tradition that anyone standing beneath mistletoe could not refuse being kissed. If it happened to be a beautiful woman or handsome man, all the better. Pliny the Elder seems to credit the ancient Druids for his mystical understanding of mistletoe. The Druids considered mistletoe a mystical plant and used it for several medicinal and magical purposes. The Mistletoe’s ability to grow and flourish during winter, even in trees that appeared dead, is likely what sparked the idea that there must be some link between mistletoe and fertility/rejuvenation/rebirth.

Early Victorians would hang mistletoe around the home during the Christmas celebrations. Women and girls caught beneath the mistletoe had to give up a kiss to the closest gentleman. For each kiss, a lady could take a berry from the mistletoe. The lady with the most berries by the end of the evening was considered the ‘winner’ (which likely meant the winning woman’s popularity was due to her powerful feminine energy or that she was heading for marriage and/or children soon).

Evergreens and Modern Christmas
By the end of World War II, many Christmas traditions involving the evergreens (especially the Christmas tree) began to spread world wide. Once Christmas started to be commercialized (so much for throwing the money changers out of the temple), it became impossible to escape Christmas Wreaths, Christmas trees, mistletoe above the door, holly being used as decoration by December 25th anywhere in the modern, Western world … and many places in Asia and beyond. The high demand for holly, yew, pine boughs, mistletoe and such is so great that it is not uncommon these days to find plastic replicates use in homes and businesses. The use of plastic evergreens may be one on defining aspects of our times … that we are content with symbols and replicas instead of the real thing.

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That ancient winter solstice customs and Christmas traditions and celebrations have blended together seems an aberration to some, and perfectly right to others. This author falls into ‘it seems right’ category. When mid-winder is cold, dim and wet, and a breeze can cut through you with a chill, is a time to set one’s mind towards hope and light. The winter’s solstice should herald, like angles, that a better, warmer day is coming. One just has to keep the faith … and however one chooses to keep that faith should be one’s spiritual right. If the message is to love one’s neighbor, or, love and be respectful to the earth and it’s web of life, is there really such a big difference? Maybe it’s a distinction without a difference.

The power of evergreens, those special trees, scrubs and plants that seem to defy winter, who defy the cold and dying of the light in winter, should not be underestimated. They do seem to brighten our homes, our doorways and our lives on a chilly night. As the Christmas season begins and the decorations are put out, those evergreens do seem to speak of hope in ways difficult to define.

For a special reading this holiday season, give Psychic Denise a call at 1-866-407-7164. Denise is a gifted clairvoyant and rune stone reader who also has a great appreciation for angels.