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This is my second article on Christmas Traditions.
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As part of the Holiday Gifts of Christmas Series, I thought I'd blog about the three plants I associate the most with the holiday. Below is the information I collected from various sources on the web.
The custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is a survival of the Druid and other pre-Christian traditions. According to custom, the mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at Candlemas; it may remain hanging through the year, often to preserve the house from lightning or fire, until it is replaced the following Christmas Eve. Although the tradition has spread throughout the English-speaking world, it is largely unknown in the rest of Europe.
The Greeks also thought that it had mystical powers and down through the centuries it became associated with many folklore customs. In the Middle Ages and later, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits. In Europe they were placed over house and stable doors to prevent the entrance of witches. It was also believed that the oak mistletoe could extinguish fire.
In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up. Later, the eighteenth-century English credited with a certain magical appeal called a kissing ball. At Christmas time a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, cannot refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill.
"The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases."
The plant's association with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico, where legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday. The tale goes that the child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson "blossoms" sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations.
The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus. The white leaves represent his purity.In Spain it is known as "Flor de Pascua", meaning "Easter flower". In both Chile and Peru, the plant became known as "Crown of the Andes".
Poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations in homes, churches, offices, and elsewhere across North America. In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.
Today, Christians consider holly symbolic of Jesus Christ in two ways. The red berries represent the blood that Jesus shed on the cross on the day he was crucified. Legend states that holly berries were originally white, but that the blood Christ shed for the sins of humankind stained the berries forever red. A holly's pointed leaves symbolize the crown of thorns placed on Jesus' head before he died on the cross.
The early Christians also believed the fact that the Holly helps in driving away the evil spirits as it is endowed with some magical powers. So, during Christmas time, the Holly was usually hung on doors, windows to prevent the entry of witches and evil spirits.
In Scandinavia the plant is known as the Christ Thorn.