“Deck the halls with boughs of Holly” is a well known line from a secular carol. Its exact composition date is unknown but it is believed to be of Welsh origin and it was popular in the 18th century. It was also featured by Mozart as a violin and piano duet. It is also well known from the recordings of the Greek singer Nana Mouskouri.
Another firm fact known about holly is the sharp pain inflicted by its glossy prickly leaves. Childhood accidents are difficult to forget but here are twelve things not to be forgotten about holly, the most favorite Christmas decoration of all time.
Legends of the Holly Tree
- The holly used to decorate homes, hotel lobbies and store windows at Christmas is the common holly, better known as English holly; at one time tea made from its leaves was believed to have medical benefits for arthritis suffers. This notion has since been labeled “hum-bug.”
- All hollies are not evergreen. There are over 400 recorded species of holly; some are variegated.
- In parts of England it is believed that sprigs of holly placed around a young girl’s bed on Christmas Eve will keep mischievous little goblins away from her for the year ahead.
- In Astrology people born in June are known as Holly people; they are honest, hard-working and often very religious. Winter is their favorite time of year.
- Holly is said to be the tree used to make Christ’s cross. Legend has it that the other trees refused and splintered when touched by an ax whereas the holly remained true as a tree, and it is as a Passion symbol that the holly tree is seen in pictures of saints.
- Wood from the holly tree is traditionally used for making white chess pieces.
- Christian legend says one winter night in Bethlehem the holly trees miraculously grew leaves out of season to hide the holy Family from Herod’s men. Since then it has been an evergreen as a token for Christ’s gratitude. Variegated varieties of Holly do not figure in this legend.
- Holly trees can grow from two to forty feet tall.
- Holly is a man’s plant and is believed to bring protection and good fortune to men whereas Ivy is believed to do the same for women. On a humorous note it is believed that whoever brings the first bough of holly into a home will rule the roost for the coming year.
- Holly trees are either male or female. They both produce white blossoms but only the female tree produces the familiar red holly berries which are toxic and are dangerous if swallowed.
- Holly wreaths hung on a door or draped along a mantle represent welcome and long life to all who enter.
- On the 12th night of Christmas sprigs of holly are tucked behind pictures of Christ to remind the Faithful of his Passion.
The Holly Tree
Although highly linked to Christmas, holly is not just a decoration. The Holly tree is a beautiful and versatile garden plant in its own right unlike the other Christmas decoration, the Mistletoe, which is a parasitic plant.