In days gone by, before tinsel and glass baubles, people decorated their homes with holly and mistletoe, in the depth of winter.
Christians have long associated the holly thorn with the suffering of Jesus, and the berries with his blood, but the use of holly as a sacred symbol goes further back in time.
We know that in ancient Rome, holly was sacred to the sun god Saturn, and the early Celts revered the plant as a symbol of good fortune and cheerfulness.
The holly tree was largely believed by ancient people to repel lightning, and it was not unusual for holly to be planted around homes as a form of protection.
The prickly leaves, similarly, would have been seen by ancient people to have special properties that could be called upon to support a victory in times of challenge.
Holly is seen at its most powerful in winter, and is therefore associated strongly with dreams and with magical journeys of the spirit.
While mistletoe is now commonly seen as a decoration for Christian homes, it is really only in the past few hundred years that it has been used in this way at Christmas. In earlier times, its association with Pagan ritual meant that before the Reformation it was usually banned by the Catholic Church.
The more modern tradition of kissing under the mistletoe for good luck has its origins in the ancients view of this parasitic plant as a potent fertility treatment for both animals and humans.
In fact, for the ancient Celts, mistletoe was considered to possess great powers of healing. It was thought to be a powerful antidote to poisoning, a protector against evil spirits and a bringer of great blessings and peace when hung over the door of a dwelling.
One of the stories told of mistletoe is that it would only be cut by the Druids at certain sacred times and would be collected in a cloth as it fell from the branches of the oak upon which it had been growing. It was considered essential to prevent the plant from ever touching the ground. Failing to do this would have profaned its sacred nature.
Thanks to Piaxabay for the images in this article.