Graham Workman’s Nature Notes

Graham Workman
Graham Workman
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WE started putting the Christmas decorations up this weekend with the children helping – well they call it helping!

Anyway the questions began to fly thick and fast about holly, ivy, Christmas trees, favourite Christmas foods etc – what does it all mean, Dad? Ohhhh well living evergreen decoration is a key element in seasonal decoration for winter and Christmas festivities.

Our Christian festival falls at the time of the original pagan feasts that celebrated light over darkness and was called the winter solstice. Pagan symbolism of believing that evergreens in winter kept away evil spirits merged with Christian celebrations over the years and the use of holly, mistletoe and ivy in evergreen boughs is long standing.

Mistletoe (Viscum album) was held in high esteem by the Romans for its magical powers. Although it is extremely toxic, recently it has been recognised in health circles to have healing powers probably still untapped fully. Homeopathic recipes suggest it can be used to lower blood pressure and may have a role in cancer remedies, but only a fully qualified medical practitioner should ever prescribe it.

Mistletoe is a parasite that grows on other trees such as apple, poplar and oak trees. Hanging mistletoe in the home was originally done to ward off evil spirits and encourage the blossom of a new spring. The Victorians used it in doorways and ceilings and festive rules were relaxed enough for the odd ‘socially acceptable ‘mistletoe kiss’ to take place.

Tradition insists that the more berries there are the more possible kisses. Did you know that for every kiss a berry should be plucked off and once the berries have gone so the kissing stops. The kissing custom is descended from the Celts/Druids and they believed that mistletoe was an antidote for all poisons and that when given in drink it could impart fertility to any barren animal.

The holly and the ivy,

Now both are full well grown.

Of all the trees that are in the wood,

The holly bears the crown.

In Scandinavia, the evergreen varieties such as holly and ivy were revered; a sign of defiance to cold and a symbol of life’s continuity. Holly was thought to be the home of wandering spirits.