Thursday, December 23, 2010
Advent Eighteen: Holly and Ivy
The Holly and the Ivy
Holly and ivy are traditional Christmas decorations. For that matter holly was sacred to the ancient Celts, and played a part in their Winter Solstice celebrations. Meanwhile the Romans associated holly with Bacchus, the God of Wine and ivy with Saturn who oversaw Saturnalia, their midwinter/new year celebration.
The Carol above gives us the Christian symbolism of holly (less so for ivy, which gets a title role solely to be found wanting compared to the king of woods, holly). But the reason for their use in Midwinter decorations is simply that they are evergreen and have coloured berries. In the dull, grey, brown and white of a pre-modern winter, these cheery colours helped remind people of the rebirth of life - Spring is on it's way!
 This is a holdover of earlier songs about the contest between holly and ivy, which symbolised... no I'll leave that for now.