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Outdoors: Holly and ivy


Of all the trees that are in wood, 
The holly bears the crown.

It’s hard to imagine the holiday season without "The Holly and the Ivy," but how did these plants become associated with Christmas?

In the pagan cultures of Northern Europe, people were quite taken with evergreens. If a plant could stay green during the cold days of winter, they believed it must possess mystical powers, many of which had to do with fertility.

Christian missionaries at first endeavored to stifle the veneration of plants like holly and mistletoe. Having no luck, priests conferred their own symbolism on the plants that people already considered special.

In England, holly, with its glossy but sharp-tipped leaves, was fashioned into a circle to symbolize the crown of thorns. The bright red holly berries represented the blood of Christ.

These circles, called "wreaths" and placed on doors, were said to deter witches and also to discourage tax collectors.

In nature, spines, thorns and sharply pointed leaves do deter and discourage foraging animals (except for desperately hungry rabbits).

Anyway, people continued to celebrate holly—which they considered a male plant.

And the ivy was supposedly the clinging female, which depended on the male for support.

While I have been known to deck the halls with boughs of holly, I take issue with the original premise.