Tuesday, 8 December 2015

H is for

Holly

is a shrub with waxy green prickly leaves and red berries. Most varieties of the plant are evergreen. The berries provide food for birds but are toxic to humans causing nausea and severe stomachache.


Holly in Winter
 CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], 
via Wikimedia Commons
So the plant is still bright and vibrant against the snowy landscape that we like to think our Christmases will be and the colours of the holly are the ones that have been adopted as traditionally representing Christmas, red and green.


But why do we deck our halls with boughs of the stuff at Christmas?

Apparently the druids thought that holly had magical powers and saw it as a symbol of fertility and eternal life. In Druid lore, cutting down a holly tree would bring bad luck and hanging the plant in homes was believed to bring good luck and protection.

The Romans associated holly with Saturn, the god of agriculture and harvest, and decked the halls with its boughs during the festival of Saturnalia--the Roman mid-winter festival of misrule which has heavily influenced many Christmas traditions, including the time of year we celebrate--which took place on 17th December.

It appears Christians adopted the holly tradition from Druid, Celtic and Roman traditions, and its symbolism changed to reflect Christian beliefs. The red berries to represent the blood that Jesus shed on the cross on the day he was crucified and the holly's pointed leaves to symbolize the crown of thorns placed on Jesus' head before he died on the cross.


Rick, one of my MCs in Resonance (and also in my current WIP) is a gardener and an agnostic Christian. I wonder what he would make of the symbolism of the holly bush?
He'd probably ignore it and instead tell you that they thrive in the sunlight or the shade and benefit from well-drained soil. That the white blossoms will bloom in May and June. And that, while the berries are poisonous, the leaves have been used in herbal remedies for centuries for various medical conditions like dizziness, fever and hypertension. 
Rick might not be book smart like his boyfriend, Mal, but he does know his plants.

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