Holly & Ivy

A Tradition-ful Advent:

Holly & Ivy

A Little History:

Like the Christmas Wreath we talked about yesterday, and The Christmas Tree from before, most of the Christmas greenery we see used in decorations for the holidays have their history in pre-Christian times when people used it to help celebrate the Winter Solstice Festival because they were green year round and represented life in the cold of winter. These included fir trees, but also holly, ivy, and mistletoe (which we’ll talk about later).  Adorning homes with these plants freshened the air and their greenery reminded occupants of the coming spring. While the cold, dark days of winter turned much of the landscape dreary, many varieties of holly and ivy remained green year round, signifying eternal life, and the bright red berries of some holly plants were cheerful spots of color.

The practice of ornamenting the home with holly began with the Romans, who regarded it as an omen of good fortune and a symbol of immortality. They sent congratulatory wreaths of holly to newlyweds.  Using ivy as decoration also dates back to the time of the Romans, who associated it with Bacchus (the Roman equivalent of the Greek Dionysus, god of wine and intoxication). Ivy was a symbol of fidelity and marriage, and was often wound into a crown, wreath or garland.  It also served as a symbol of prosperity and charity, and so it was adopted by the early Christians as a reminder to help the less fortunate. Over time, decorating with holly & ivy was adopted by many Christians as part of the Christmas celebration and religious meaning was attributed to the physical properties of holly, in particular.

The Connection:

The prickly leaves of Holly represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. The berries are the drops of blood that were shed by Jesus because of the thorns. n Scandinavia it is actually known as the Christ Thorn.

Ivy has to cling to something to support itself as it grows. This reminds us that we need to cling to God for support in our lives.

Verse(s) to Remember:

“And twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head and put a reed in His right hand. And kneeling before Him, they mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Matthew 27:29

Ideas to Make it Stick:

  • Decorate with some holly and ivy in your own home somewhere.  If you have young kids, let them feel it’s “prickly” leaves.
  • Listen to or sing the song “The Holly & The Ivy”.  Here are the lyrics to follow along:The holly and the ivy,
    When they are both full grown
    Of all the trees that are in the wood
    The holly bears the crown.

    The holly bears a blossom
    As white as lily flower
    And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
    To be our sweet Saviour.

    The holly bears a berry
    As red as any blood,
    And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
    To do poor sinners good.

    The holly bears a prickle
    As sharp as any thorn,
    And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
    On Christmas Day in the morn.

    The holly bears a bark
    As bitter as any gall,
    And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
    For to redeem us all.

    The holly and the ivy,
    When they are both full grown
    Of all the trees that are in the wood
    The holly bears the crown.

Please feel free to share with friends and leave comments…  Do you have other connections between the tradition and the heart of the holiday?  Creative ideas to make it stick?  I’d love to know what you and your family do with this!


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