Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A Christmas tree, the Holly, Ivy and some Mistletoe

Traditional evergreen foliage decorates our houses at this time of year. It's beautiful to look at and is an important part of the history of Christmas as we know it.

Christianity established itself here in the early centuries. Until that time the indigenous people and those who settled in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales were predominantly Pagan. Their Yule celebration continues to start every year on or around 21st December, and we also of course have a date for Jesus' birthday on 25th as set by the early Church.  The holly, ivy and mistletoe have links to both.

Holly was predominant in the Roman feast of

Saturnalia, and the custom no doubt followed those who came to England in the first century. It also symbolised the nails that crucified Jesus and the crown of thorns he wore.

The ivy which clings as it grows is said to act as a reminder to Christians to seek God in all they do.

No one is sure how the first Christmas tree came about but it may have been in 700 AD when St Boniface saw the Pagans in Germany preparing to sacrifice a young boy by an oak tree. It's said that he was so angry he chopped down the tree, and an evergreen grew there instead.

Mistletoe holds a special place in our hearts. It's linked to the Vikings and Druids who again shaped our history. According to Viking myth Freya, the Goddess of love, ordered mistletoe to grow halfway between earth and sky. When people walked under the trees where it was found they kissed to please her, and if it was a Viking warrior it was the custom for him not to fight that day!

The ancient Druids thought mistletoe was sacred.

"When they discover some, growing on an oak tree, they gather it with great ceremony on the 9th day of the moon... then prepare a ritual sacrifice and feast.. A priest dressed in white robes climbs the tree and cuts down the mistletoe using a golden sickle. Onlookers catch it as it falls in a white cloak and the bulls are sacrificed..."

Pliny the Younger (AD62-113)

It's berries are poisonous, but to kiss under the mistletoe is a Christmas tradition we still have:

"Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Someone came, and kissed me there."

Walter de la Mere "Mistletoe".

Have a Happy Christmas everyone, it's almost here! I'm feeling as if mine may have started last week. I was fortunate enough to have 4 of my poems accepted for publication by Indigo Dreams Publishers http://indigodreams.co.uk/ for their Dawntreader quarterly poetry magazine and Dagda Publishing http://dagdapublishing.co.uk/ for 2 of their Charity Anthologies.

Please leave a comment. I would love to hear about your Christmas.