Christmas Trivia - Holly and Ivy

Why are holly and ivy associated with Christmas?

Holly and Ivy were Pagan fertility symbols originally used in pre-Christian times to  celebrate the Winter Solstice Festival, to ward off evil spirits, and to celebrate new growth.

In pagan times, Holly was thought to be a male plant and Ivy a female plant. A contest between Holly and Ivy would determine whether a husband or wife would rule the household during the coming year, so decorating with ivy only would give the woman the upper hand.

When Christianity came into Western Europe, the meaning of the holiday changed, but the display of the greenery continued. As a result, Holly and Ivy have been traditional Christmas decorations since Roman times.

Despite early church ambivalence about the continued display of Pagan symbols -- particularly with Ivy, which grew in the shade and therefore would be associated with secrecy and debauchery -- Christians now welcome the display of greenery at Christmas time, and have assigned Christian symbolism to both plants.

To Christians, holly's prickly leaves 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, holly is known as the Christ Thorn.

Christians note that Ivy must cling to something to support itself as it grows -- a reminder to Christians to cling to God for support, which is analogous to the Pagan belief that women might cling to men for support. Ivy also serves as a symbol of charity, reminding Christians to help the less fortunate. As an evergreen, Ivy is also said to represent the immortality or eternal life of Christ.

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