Holly is one of my very favorite plants. No only is it easy to take care of, evergreen, and provides food and shelter for wildlife, it's gorgeous in winter. We have a postage stamp sized lot filled with oak trees, yet I've added five holly trees to our landscape. Frankly, I've been a bit upset because our new lawn service guys trimmed them ruthlessly a few weeks ago. I had not asked them to do so. Now the birds and I have far less holly branches and berries to make use of. But I expect we'll get through it and can only hope that in typical holly fashion they will respond by growing stronger and fuller than ever.
I doubt that many medieval citizens worried about someone over-trimming holly trees and bushes. If on a grand estate, the gardeners would have known it would be used for decoration. Rural peasants could find it growing abundantly in the wild -- free holiday decor.
But why decorate at all and why use holly? Looking over my research, it seems that to many cultures -- Romans, Celts, Norse -- it was a symbol of fertility and eternal life. It's evergreen, after all. The Romans also associated it with Saturn, the god of agriculture, harvest, and fertility and used it to decorate their homes for the Saturnalia celebration. It was such a popular holiday that rather than attempt to abolish it completely, Pope Gregory the Great changed it to the Christian celebration of Christmas. Holly was still abundant and evergreen and the berries still red and so it continued to be used for decking the halls. Over time, the spiky green leaves were to be compared to Christ's Crown of Thorns and the red of the berries as a symbol of His blood.
The holly tree was as sacred to the Druids as the oak. It was said that the oak controlled the light (daylight) in summer while the holly controlled it in winter. Druids held that holly had protective powers. While they considered it sacrilege to cut down the trees, folks were allowed to cut boughs and branches to set inside their homes for protection.
Since holly is apparently lightening-resistant, both the Celts and the Norse associated it with their thunder gods, Taranis and Thor respectively. They planted the trees near their dwellings for added protection against lightening and evil.
I don't know why I'm surprised that holly has been used in and around homes for over a millennium. I love it. Why wouldn't anyone else?
Be sure to visit medieval ladies Mary Morgan and Barbara Bettis for more medieval fun!
Happy Medieval Monday!
It's no secret that I prefer fat HEAs. Where better than in a beautiful romance?
From me to you with a smile.
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