The Origins of 5 Common Christmas Plants
Trim the tree and hang the mistletoe, because it’s Christmastime! But what are the origins of our favorite holiday plants? Many Christmas plants have a history beginning in ancient times as old as the Druids and Norse mythology, so let’s break it down and get to know these five common Christmas plants.
The most obvious holiday plant is that big tree in the middle of the living room! Although not everyone does a real tree anymore, instead opting for small decorative Christmas trees for small apartments and homes, the tree with all its trimmings is one of the best representations of the holiday season.
Christmas falls around the ancient solstice holiday, Yule, which was celebrated by Pagans with evergreen branches and boughs. Similarly, Romans used evergreen plants and trees to celebrate their holiday of the harvest, Saturnalia, and ancient Egyptians used green palms to worship their god Ra. These evergreen plants (plants that stay green year round) symbolize fertility and new life. These ancient traditions helped to develop the modern day Christmas tree!
Mistletoe is a classic holiday decoration with a long and superstitious past. You’ve probably seen it hanging up in someone’s home during the Christmas season, which is a tradition that started back in the days of ancient Druids and Norse mythology. Mistletoe is a symbol of good luck used to ward off evil spirits, and in Norse mythology it was used as a symbol of love and friendship (hence the kissing).
These days, we aren’t so preoccupied with evil spirits, but we can definitely use Mistletoe to focus on positive thoughts and tell any negative energy to check itself at the door. And kiss our sweeties, of course.
Another one for the Druids! Holly was considered a sacred plant by ancient Druids, thanks to its evergreen nature that symbolizes eternal life. Hanging a sprig of Holly in the home is believed to bring good luck and protection, but cutting down an entire Holly tree is a bad luck move. The ancient Romans used Holly in their celebrations of the god of the harvest, Saturn, and used it to decorate during Saturnalia.
You’ve probably noticed that many different mythologies draw similar meanings from the same plant, so it’s no surprise that early Christians also found symbolism in Holly. Within Christianity, Holly’s red berries represent the blood of Christ and its leaves represent his crown of thorns.
This gorgeous flower is commonly bloomed at Christmas time and during the winter holiday season. Amaryllis represents pride, beauty, and love and its origins come from Greek mythology. It’s said that a young woman named Amaryllis fell in love with a shepherd named Alteo, but he only had love for flowers and would only love someone who could give him a new flower. Amaryllis consulted the Oracle and was instructed to wound herself with an arrow at Alteo’s doorstep while expressing her love for him. After thirty days of this, a large red flower bloomed from the spot where her blood had hit the ground. She presented the flower to Alteo and they kissed.
(Side note: There are less painful ways to “prove” your love).
Available in many colors including white and pink, Amaryllis isn’t always blood red. But whichever color you choose, this flower adds a beautiful piece of living decor to your holiday festivities. Once it’s done blooming over the holidays, you can keep the bulb and rebloom it again!
The classic Christmas plant, Poinsettia is native to Central America and was used by the ancient Aztecs for pigment and medicinal purposes. In their native habitat in southern Mexico, these plants (originally called cuetlaxochitl) flower in the winter time, which makes them an excellent Christmas and holiday season plant. They got their common name, Poinsettia, after Joel Roberts Poinsett served as an ambassador to Mexico in 1825. He began growing the plants in his home state of South Carolina, and they gained popularity as he sent them to friends and botanical contacts.
As Christian storytelling around the Yuletide holiday developed, the starry shape of Poinsettias became a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem, leading the three Wise Men to the birthplace of Jesus. A Poinsettia’s red leaves are said to symbolize the blood of Christ, while white leaves symbolize his purity.
What are your favorite holiday plants to celebrate the season?