Plants have long been associated with pagan, and later Christmas, traditions. While the most famous are holly, rosemary and mistletoe, there are other lesser known plants that figure into these traditions. While some of these continue to be familiar Christmas symbols others have faded to the realm of "little known facts". In terms of little known facts, for the sake of children and pets, holiday decorators should know a little about Christmas plant safety, too.
Ivy is perhaps the most well known of Christmas symbols. While many people would agree on this, not too many could tell you its place in Christmas lore. The significance of ivy, like holly and mistletoe, is based on pagan rituals. Ivy was a symbol of everlasting life in pagan religions. This hardy vine clings to the smoothest of walls, in the harshest weather. Its resilient nature makes it an apt symbol of the nature of life. No matter how tough the obstacle, the ivy perseveres. As such, ivy featured heavily in ancient Celtic and Druid winter solstice rituals. The Celts and Druids thought that just like ivy, the earth was everlasting and would persevere. It was a symbol of hope that spring would soon arrive. Ivy has the same meaning in Christian symbolism. It represents the everlasting life of Christ.
Laurel leaves, also known as bay leaves are another Christmas plant whereby both the pagan and Christian meanings are similar. In ancient Rome, laurel leaves were the scared plant of the Sun God, Apollo. During Saturnalia, the Romans would decorate their homes with it. It represented the triumph of the sun over all. Early Christians adopted the laurel leaf as their own, altering the meaning slightly to the triumph of humanity through the birth of Jesus. Both ivy and laurel leaves continue to be used in Christmas decorations, especially wreaths and garlands.
The Christmas Rose
Then there's the Christmas rose, which has an interesting legend attached to it. A young shepherd girl named Madelon wanted to bring a gift to the Baby Jesus. Hearing of the gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold, Madelon realized her gift would be humble in comparison. She was very poor and had no money to buy an extravagant gift. So she decided to gather a simple bouquet of flowers. She searched the countryside for any herb, flower or plant, but it was a harsh winter and there were none. In despair, Madelon began to cry. An angel heard her cries and where Madelon's tears stained the ground they caused beautiful, pure white roses to grow. Madelon now had her gift, one born of the heart. The Christmas Rose isn't a true rose, but rather a perennial herb. Traditionally it blooms in December, thus its name.