Love the way holly’s distinctive green leaves and vibrant red berries adorn your holiday table, especially under candlelight? Then you better wait close to its show off date to bring it indoors. This robust winter beauty begins to shrivel in the heat. And if you are superstitious at all, wait until Christmas. Legend has it that it’s bad luck to bring holly into the house beforehand…or removed before Epiphany Eve on January 5th.
Of course there are some who avoid these problems altogether by decorating with artificial holly which doesn’t wilt but contributed to the economical decline of small town Milton, Delaware.
Holly is What You Make it…
Once claimed to be the holly capital of the world, Milton thrived in wreath-making businesses from 1920-1950 when holly grew wild and abundantly in Sussex County. (Two men could pick enough holly each day to make 450 wreaths.) When state resident Charles C. Jones, Sr. began shipping holly wreaths and products, Delaware became the leading supplier of holly nationwide; and in 1939 Delaware named American Holly (Ilex Opaca) as its official state tree.
This cash crop was short-lived though and by the 1960’s Delaware’s commercial holly industry died. The introduction of industrialized production, plastic wreaths, wage laws for piecework businesses, and development depleted much of Milton’s holly groves. Sadly, the only holly harvesting in Delaware today is in backyards. Hmmm…an early lesson in conservation…
…And What You Believe it to Be
If you don’t live in Delaware, any idea why you decorate for the holidays with holly? Is it simply a standard at this time of year? The lively colors? Perhaps it’s family tradition, religious symbolism, or superstition from long ago.
- Believed to have magical powers, Druid’s hung holly in homes for good luck and protection. Cutting down a holly tree was considered bad luck.
- Christians associate holly’s red berries to blood spilt by Christ, and its prickly leaves to Jesus’ crown of thorns.
- Romans connected holly to Saturn, the god of agriculture and harvest, and decorated with it during the popular Saturnalia festival. Originally a two-day event beginning on December 17th, changes in the Roman calendar extended the celebration to December 25th, near the date and time of the winter solstice.
- Scottish tradition placed an ivy leaf in a bowl of water on Hogmany (New Years Eve). If the leaf remained fresh and green until January 6th (Little Christmas) a good year was forecast; if it withered with black spots, ill-health would come. Hopefully, the house was cool…
- Considering holly’s prickly leaves as masculine and ivy’s smooth leaves as feminine, pre-Christian parades costumed a boy in holly leaves and a girl in ivy to bring Nature through the darkest part of the year and re-emerge for another year’s fertility.
- Some believe the household will be dominated for the coming year by the gender of either the holly (prickly or smooth) or the person first bringing it into the house.
Who brought the holly home at your house— was it Mom or Dad? Are you thinking of offering to bring it home this year? Before you do…
In heraldry, holly symbolizes truth. So when you say, “Honey, I’ll pick up the holly this year,” will you tell them why?