Who’s Bringing the Holly Home this Year?

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…

christmas-992827_1280 wreathOnce 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…

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  • 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.

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  • 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…

The Truth

In heraldry, holly symbolizes truth. So when you say, “Honey, I’ll pick up the holly this year,” will you tell them why?

Better yet, decorating with both prickly and smooth (aka he and she) holly is said to create a very balanced and harmonious year for the household. Makes sense to me.  Why not get them together, make some luscious hot chocolate while decorating, then snuggle by the fire?

 

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Some (not so) Squirrelly Advice for Pleasant Holidays

Mixed Nuts
What do you think about when you think about squirrels?  Ravaged bird feeders?  Acrobatic acts?  Rabies?  The park?  Nuts?  Well, yes, nuts.  That also comes to mind when I think about the December holidays.

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Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

Not just the type of nuts we eat — like roasted chestnuts, walnuts on that sumptuous apple pie, or honey coated peanuts in the snack dish, but nuts as in gathering frantically like a squirrel, and nuts as in foolishly excessive holiday behaviors.   It’s a bountiful season for sure, but will it fill us up or leave us feeling exhausted, robbed and empty?

Filling Up More than Stockings
Each of us can choose to step back and celebrate in simpler, more meaningful ways.  You can create a holiday celebration of choice and one that enriches, rather than depletes, you or loved ones — physically, emotionally, and financially.  Take time to think about what Christmas really means to you.

  • Is it that important to try and create the perfect Christmas of yesterday, or a happier one now?  If so, dig deeper and ask yourself why.
  • Will taking on additional activities amidst an already crammed schedule affect your ability to give others your undivided, in-the-moment attention…or leave you feeling distracted, tired and resentful?
  • Is it worth it to over-spend, searching for an ideal gift when expectations and disappointments often cancel out efforts of holiday goodwill?
  • Are your actions obligatory or from the heart?  Compulsory sentiments and gifts noticeably lack holiday cheer for both the giver and receiver.
  • Will you honor your self-care with adequate rest, nutritious foods, exercise, asking for help, and being financially responsible?  Or will you set yourself up to sour your holiday mood?

Do your actions make sense?  Do they seem a little nuts to you?  Be honest.

Enlist Creativity
If you own a bird feeder, you’ve witnessed a squirrel’s analytical creativity accessing it — including those supposedly “squirrel proof” feeders.  Be as innovative.

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Photo by Anthony Intraversato on Unsplash

If others are involved, ask each person to select the one thing about the holidays that makes their heart sing.  Avoid the inner critic’s beleaguering to add just one more thing then another because you’ll be right back to the overload you tried to lighten.  Determine what is absolutely necessary then sew those pieces together to broaden smiling faces around a more joyful holiday.   You may be pleasantly surprised to discover it’s not a holiday of lack but one of overflowing abundance from the spirit within.


Apply Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh‘s sentiment to the holidays… “Once you identify your deepest intention, you have a chance to be true to yourself, to celebrate the kind of holiday you’d like to have, and to be the kind of person you’d like to be.”


Trudging through Tradition
Several years ago I happily exchanged some traditional activities for what means most to me.  Quieter gatherings, tuning in to nature and the gifts she generously offers day in and out, gladden my spirit.  (This is not to say I don’t host or attend holiday parties.  But I keep them manageable, not falling prey to Madison Avenue’s message that I must decorate my house with a thousand lights, bake cookies, and overextend my bank account purchasing lavish gifts.)

A friend, looking frazzled and slumped in her chair, told me yesterday how overwhelmed she felt filling out 300 Christmas cards!  Three hundred cards?  Who wouldn’t feel overwhelmed?  But, was it really necessary?  It’s important to connect with others and tell them how much they mean to us but if it adds a layer of stress it doesn’t make sense to me — it’s nuts.

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Photo by remi-skatulski on Unsplash

All in a Nutshell
Make the holidays what you want them to be and create cherished memories.  Don’t worry or fret.  Otherwise you may become like the red squirrel whose coat turned grey from stress.   🙂

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Photo by Arthur Rachbauer on Unsplash

Fake Holidays

At five years old, my birthday was my favorite time of year.  In my young adult dating years, Valentine’s Day ranked #1.   Christmas anticipation didn’t last long as my dysfunctional family of origin turned a Norman Rockwell holiday into one of chaos, anger and disappointment.  No fun.  For years, I dreaded winter holidays when stores began displaying Christmas decorations in September.  If I could only jump to January 2nd.  What happened to living in the moment — for merchants, or for me?

As I’ve become more spiritual, Thanksgiving moved into top position for favorite holiday.  I prefer the lower key ambience and taking more time to reflect deeply on the people who have given special meaning to my life — a simple kindness, a confidante’, an excellent health care provider…

But this year, things changed.  It occurred to me that many of our holidays have been virtual holidays, perhaps the precursor to the internet’s fake news.  After all, no one knows for sure if Christ’s birthday was December 25thValentine’s Day is just as mysterious.  And Thanksgiving — well what am I giving thanks for if my ancestors came to America, killed the Native American Indians then stole their homeland only to destroy it?  That reality sickens me.

I’ve long felt that Thanksgiving was the more solemn of holidays but now more deeply understand why.   No more “celebrating” fake holidays for me.  Expressing gratitude on any arbitrary day, and as many days as possible throughout the year are my days of thanks giving.  Now that’s something real, and worth celebrating.

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Main ingredient of my apple pie? Love. Lots of it!

There’s a traditional Native American Seneca greeting I love any time of the year:  Na:weh Skennio

It means Thank you for being!  For all that you do and for who you are, I thank you for being. – Jamie Sams in The Fabric of the Future

And that makes any day of the year a real holiday in my heart.