Holly will accent the season with beautyThe Christmas season is filled with all sorts of music from the season. Most of the music from now until the holiday is predominantly Christmas in nature, but I sure love listening to it.
The Christmas season is filled with all sorts of music from the season. Most of the music from now until the holiday is predominantly Christmas in nature, but I sure love listening to it. One of my favorites is “deck the harrs wit boughs of horry farararara rararara. Tis da season to be jorry farararara rararara” as sang from the wonderful movie “A Christmas Story” during the restaurant scene. It is actually from the carol of “Deck the Halls,” but it is fun to sing either way when the music is playing.
What lies behind the meaning of “Deck the halls with boughs of holly?” Holly has been around for many centuries and has carried a great deal of sacred meaning from the early times of the Druids. They used to view the holly as a plant material that could ward off evil, thus it was hung in doorways and windows during the Christmas season to protect the inhabitants and to stop evil from entering into the home.
In the time of the Christians, the meaning changed a little as holly represented the crucifixion of Christ. It was said the holly once produced white berries, but after the crucifixion, the berries became stained with the red color of Christ’s blood. The thorny composition of the leaves represented that of the crown of thorns Christ wore on his journey to the cross. In some records, it has even been said that the cross he bore was made from the wood of the holly plant and that holly actually sprang forth from the foot of the cross.
During those early times, the holly not only represented protection, but also good luck when hung in the home. Trimming branches from the bushes and trees was part of every year’s ritual during the holidays. It’s evergreen foliage with its waxy texture represents everlasting life and endurance even through the most harsh of seasons. To cut down a holly tree meant to create bad luck to the individual who felled the tree.
Holly is a plant that enjoys bright light and good amounts of moisture in a well-drained acidic soil. Depending on one of the more than 400 varieties, these plants can grow anywhere from a 3-foot shrub to nearly an 80-foot tree. They are not self-pollinating, so both a male and female plant are needed to produce berries. In many cases, the female selection has a smoother leaf and the male selection is more spiny. They both will produce small and insignificant white flowers, but only the female selection will produce the berries. These berries turn a brilliant red during early winter when they ripen and stay on the plant all season long.
Common belief is that these berries are poisonous. Even though they hold a certain level of toxicity, they have never proven to be fatal to humans. If ingested, the berries can cause stomach cramping and vomiting or diarrhea. Note to self: Don’t eat the berries even if they look tasty! In contrast, the berries are an important food source to birds, which have no reaction to their composition through ingestion. As the birds digest the berries, the holly seeds pass through and assist in new generations of young plants being dispersed through the areas in which they are growing.
Most hollies grown in the United States are grown in the temperate coastal areas and in the south. Most of these selections are considered evergreens. The holly plants that many of us are familiar with only grow in zone 5 or higher. Anything further north is usually of the deciduous nature and resembles less of the holly features. Most have smooth leaves with no spines, but they still produce berries. The most common variety of holly grown in our area is known as the American Winterberry. It has small smooth leaves that drop in the fall to expose the numerous red berries that lie beneath throughout the winter.
Another selection that has been sold in the nurseries over the past few years is the “Blue Prince” and “Blue Princess” holly bushes. Their leaves represent the common type of holly and are considered evergreen. Many times the tags say they will grow in zone 4, but they are more solidly an item for zone 5. Grown in our area, they tend to die back to the snow line and rarely seem to make it through the winter months. This selection also requires a higher acid content in the soil over the American Winterberry, making it a poor choice for our region. But, if you are like me and enjoy a challenge, try one for yourself and see what happens.
Holly branches look great in decorating when mixed with Christmas pine and spruce boughs. They add a nice touch of texture with the soft bed of evergreen needles. Holly also comes in the variagated form with cream or yellow edges that really set them off from the deeper shades of green. The red berries are just an added bonus to bring in that touch of color.
Holly is commonly used in fresh floral arrangements and centerpieces to create the perfect holiday accent for the dinner table. Not only does it look nice with flowers, but it also looks fresh throughout the entire season as it has a long shelf life while taking in water from the container in which they are arranged.
Go to your local florist soon and get a fresh bunch of green or variegated holly for your arrangements. As long as you are carful of their sharp spines when arranging, they will offer you weeks of enjoyment through the Christmas season and the New Year’s festivities.
Enjoy the Christmas music in the coming weeks as it will soon be gone. If you listen closely to the words, you will find a little history in each and every one of them that may bring back a few memories from your past. Most of the memories from the holidays are good ones, so sing a carol or two for yourself and be a part of the magic.