A great accent decoration
Holly is another Christmas decoration with pagan roots. In Celtic mythology, winter and summer were represented by twin kings, the "Holly King" (winter) and the "Oak King" (summer). During autumn and early winter, the Holly King reigned supreme. The holly trees were the only greenery left in the bare forest. His twin, the Oak King, having lost his leaves, was "naked" and therefore defeated. It is during this time that the days get shorter and shorter. However, during the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, the balance of power between the twins starts to shift. Once this day passes, the days begin to grow longer, gaining more light. Then it's the Oak King who reigns, only to be supplanted by his brother during the Summer Solstice. To the ancient Celts, this changing of the seasons was symbolic of the cycle of life, birth and death. Therefore holly was symbolic of life and spring to come.
Holly was also used by the ancient Romans. Holly trees were the sacred plant of Saturn, the God of the harvest and fertility. Therefore during the holiday held in Saturnalia's honor, holly wreaths were given as gifts and used to decorate the home. When December 25th was chosen by founding Church fathers to commemorate Christ's birth, it was selected to coincide with Saturnalia. As Christianity replaced pagan religions, holly came to represent Jesus' crown of thorns. The prickly holly leaves represented the thorns and the red berries drops of blood.
Holly has since become synonymous with Christmas, as apparent with Christmas carols such as "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly" and "The Holly and the Ivy". On Christmas cards, table clothes and even clothing, holly is a common site during the holidays.
Decorating With Holly
Holly is the perfect and versatile accent to compliment other decorations. Added to garlands it provides a burst of red and makes a long-lasting wreath. Add rosemary, pine cones and dried vines and you have a "nature lover wreath". Tie to the door knocker to ward off bad luck (an old Celtic tradition). Place it in bowls mixed with red and green Christmas ornaments. Place a sprig of holly beside each place setting at the dinner table. You can buy real holly from flower shops or greenhouses. If you plan to cut sprigs from a holly tree/shrub in your yard, do so when temperatures are below freezing because this will slow down the defoliation process. Live holly will begin to lose their leaves and berries in 7-10 days. Excessive heat, wind or sunlight will cause the holly to perish more quickly. If you wish to preserve the holly longer, dip (not soak) it in a hormone solution containing naphthalene acetic acid (NAA). This solution, which can be purchased from most commercial flower shops, will allow you to enjoy your holly throughout the holidays.