Christmas Ivy

Christmas IvyChristmas Ivy

Christmas Ivy, Holly, Ivy and other greenery such as Mistletoe were originally used in pre Christian times to help celebrate the ward off evil spirits. Three other plants are intimately associated with Christmas: holly, ivy and mistletoe – and in all cases their ecology is closely linked to their cultural uses.

Holly (Ilex) and ivy (Hedera helix) have been used as winter decorations since ancient times. Adorning homes with these plants freshened the air and their greenery reminded occupants of the coming spring. Holly and Ivy are often linked together at Christmas; this goes back much further, to the idea of the holly (male) and ivy (female) being burnt together at the pagan festival of Beltane.

Holly, like ivy and mistletoe, is a winter green and the bringing of green vegetation into the home is closely linked to rebirth both of spring and of Christ. It is the holly that most closely bears the crown – its spiny leaves and red berries link to Jesus’ crown of thorns. But such a link does not explain why holly is linked to Christmas rather than Easter.

Whatever your views on this vigorous climber, it is difficult not to admire its sheer tenacity. So in the spirit of Christmas goodwill, raise a glass – carved of ivy wood, of course – and toast this natural-born survivor.

“The Holly and the Ivy” Lyrics

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.