Behind the Christmas Holly and Under the Mistletoe

December 20, 2009 by

Photo by Judy Mallett, Bloomsbury Gardens

Note: This is an updated version from Urban Gardens’s first Christmas. Enjoy!

While decking the halls with boughs of holly and hanging mistletoe during the Christmas season, did you know that these plants had pagan origins?

To avoid persecution during the Roman pagan festival of Saturnalis, early Christians decked their homes with Saturnalia holly. The Druids used mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter when they would gather the evergreen plant (that is parasitic upon other trees) and use it to decorate their homes, believing it to have special healing powers for everything from female infertility to poison ingestion. In ancient Northern Europe, as Christmas was during the middle of winter and because holly remained green throughout the harsh season, boughs of holly were believed to have magical powers and were often placed over the doors of homes to drive evil away. Holly and mistletoe later lost their pagan associations and became symbols of Christmas.


Greening the Indoors to Brighten the Mood
Some people experience lows during the long darker winter months and also around the holidays. In ancient times, greenery was brought indoors to freshen the air and brighten the mood during the long, dreary winter. Hey, it can’t hurt, right?

Photo via The House of Smiths.

My good friend, landscape designer Judy Mallett of Bloomsbury Gardens, took the sweet photo (top of page) of holly spring in crates to use on her company holiday cards. And apropos of winter, here’s a little gardening tidbit I learned form Judy: Once she and I spoke just as a major snow storm was approaching the east coast, and Judy had just come in from spreading grass seed on her lawn. “It’s a great thing to do just before a snow fall,” she told me,”though my neighbors thought I’d gone off the deep end.”  In snowy, cold climates, planting winter grass seed is called “dormant winter seeding” because you lay the grass seed either on top of or under the snow until spring, when it begins to grow.

Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.

Let it snow, let it grow!

Read more about Christmas Holly and Mistletoe. And head over to my friend Teresa O’connor’s site, Seasonal Wisdom, for some Fun Facts About Christmas.

  • Mistletoe is one of my favorite parts of the holidays. These old traditions help keep alive the magic of this time of year. Thanks for sharing that Seasonal Wisdom post. History really is stranger than fiction. Warm holiday wishes to you and all the Urban Garden readers! Teresa

The freshest innovative and eco-friendly designs, trends, and ideas for urban gardens and stylish small places.

Visit Robin Horton @UrbanGardens's profile on Pinterest.