The Plants of Christmas

What would our holiday celebrations be without a Christmas tree, holly, Mistletoe, and Poinsettias? These plants have been closely associated with the winter solstice and Christmas throughout the ages. Each of these plants is evergreen and represents life over death for the many cultures that celebrate winter holidays.

The Christmas tree tradition goes back thousands of years to the Egyptians, Romans, and Druids; each culture decorated trees or used evergreen branches to trim their homes during the winter. The modern Christmas tree tradition began in Germany during the Middle Ages; the custom of decorating trees with lit candles is attributed to Martin Luther who came up with this idea after trying to recapture the experience of a starlight evening sky. German immigrants brought the Christmas tree tradition to America when they settled here.

The ancient Druids first used holly branches in their homes to ward off evil spirits and provide shelter to the fairies. The Romans adapted this custom to their winter celebrations, and this tradition was adopted by the Christians who believe that the evergreen branches symbolize life after death, and the red berries, the blood of Christ.

Mistletoe was revered by many ancient cultures as possessing magical powers since it remained evergreen throughout the year, and hung down from trees without any root system. In Viking lore, Frigga, the goddess of love, was saddened by the death of her son, but became so elated after his rebirth that she stood under some mistletoe and kissed whoever happened to pass below its branches.

The Poinsettia as a holiday ornament is a more recent tradition, originating in Mexico. The custom began after the story of a poor young girl who gathered up a bouquet of weeds and placed them by the crib at a Nativity scene. Once she set them down, the weeds were transformed into beautiful poinsettias.