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[1]). 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!

[1] This is a holdover of earlier songs about the contest between holly and ivy, which symbolised... no I'll leave that for now.
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