The Holly and the Ivy are as much a part of a traditional Christmas as are Christmas trees and presents. Both are very hardy plants, and an old belief was that if they could survive harsh winters, so could the households that displayed them. The holly was sacred to the Roman god, Saturn, and the Romans gave each other holly wreaths to deck their homes. Ivy was the plant most associated with the Roman God, Bacchus, who wore a crown of it to symbolize his immortality. Bacchus, the God of wine and frivolity, and his followers believed their crowns of ivy would save them from the ill effects of all the wine they drank in their ceremonies. Could it be worth a try?
Druids believed that holly remained green so the world would be beautiful even when the sacred groves lost their leaves. Both the holly and ivy were also seen to ward off evil spirits, and their evergreen leaves were a sign of hope that spring would return after the cold and barren nature of winter. The sooner the better! The green and red of these plants are the two colours most traditionally associated with the Christmas season.
Mistletoe has come down the ages as the plant most associated with Christmas. As a parasitic plant, it only grows high in trees where seeds land after being borne by the wind or carried by birds. The Druids therefore believed the plant to be sacred, placed on high by the Gods, and they only ever cut it using a golden sickle – presumably up a ladder. It was known as the ‘All Heal’ plant because of its supposed amazing healing powers, and was seen to have many magical and mystical properties, including fertility and that of bestowing good luck. In Scandinavian countries, enemies would often be reconciled underneath boughs containing mistletoe, and any contract made in this way could never be broken. To the Norsemen, mistletoe was sacred to Frigga, Goddess of love. Hence our custom of kissing beneath the mistletoe, I suppose!