Plants and Herbs of Christmas Time
Christmas is celebrated in many different ways across the world. This important holiday has taken on many forms throughout the years and each culture has different ways of making the season bright. Within each family there are also special traditions. Despite all the differences there are a few common elements that you’re certain to spot. Christmas just isn’t Christmas without decorations.
There are all kinds of festive decorations to place in and around your home. Interestingly, many of these decorations are related to plants. Mistletoe wrapped in ribbon hung over a doorway, sprigs of holly surrounding a candle, a bright red poinsettia place near the front door, and most important of all – the Christmas tree itself. There are actually several Christmas plants and herbs, each of which has its own interesting history and symbolism.
All Kinds of Evergreens
The most traditional Christmas plant isn’t a single plant at all; rather, it’s a type of plant. (The photo is that of a Colorado Blue Spruce Tree) Evergreen is a term used to refer to plants and trees, usually conifers, which stay green all year round instead of going dormant during the cold months. This evergreen quality is symbolic of a triumph of life over death, the possibility of new growth even after a harsh winter. It’s easy to imagine just how cheering it would have been for people long ago to look at dark green pine trees against an expanse of white winter snow. Branches from evergreen trees and bushes would have been brought inside to fill the house with the fresh scent of outdoors. This tradition is still remembered in the lyrics from the Christmas song “Deck the Halls”. Evergreen plants appear in other Christmas songs, too. Holly, ivy, and pine trees are mentioned in several.
Fruit and Flowers
Green isn’t the only color associated with the Christmas season. Red, orange, yellow, and white are just a few other colors commonly found in seasonal plant decorations.
Red holly berries, red poinsettias, red apples – the whole Christmas season is full of the color red. Since many of the traditional green plants of the holiday have red elements, it’s easy to see how red would come to be associated with the season. More than that, red is a color full of vitality and cheer; it’s the perfect way to brighten up the shortening days.
Orange and yellow are other cheerful colors. Though apples of all kinds were familiar to early Europeans, it wasn’t until after the first Crusade that oranges and other citrus fruits became widely known. Because Christmas was a holiday that featured lots of exotic spices and food, imported oranges and lemons became associated with the annual celebrations. Today many of our favorite holiday treats include orange flavoring. Some families still follow the tradition of tucking a ripe orange in the bottom of the stockings hung on Christmas Eve. Lemons are used in mulled wine and cider; in Italy and other European countries lemon-flavored candy is very popular as Christmas approaches. The color yellow is more often seen in the form of gold-tone decorations. Shining gold and silver garland, tinsel, and ornaments can be found just about everywhere. The color white is associated with silver metal, just as the color yellow is with gold, as well as with the brilliant white snow. Some holly berries are white, as are some varieties of poinsettia and Christmas rose.
The Christmas Tree
Perhaps the most important holiday plant of all is the Christmas tree itself. This is the centerpiece of most people’s holiday decorating; it is the one ‘must have’ Christmas decoration.
The Christmas tree was originally part of the German celebration of the holiday; only during the last part of the nineteenth century did the evergreen pine tree become part of most families’ home decorations. These first Christmas trees were decorated with candy, fruit, and strings of nuts. Lit candles were also secured to branches to add light to the scene. Unfortunately, these early Christmas trees caught fire as a result of open flames being placed so close to dry wood. Today’s tiny electric lights are a much safer alternative. People now have the option of choosing between purchasing a fresh Christmas tree or an artificial one that can be used year after year.
No matter how you chose to decorate your home for the holiday, you’ll find lots of inspiration in the natural world. Vividly colored fruits, flowers, trees, and plants are a central part of this special holiday.
Since 1985, The Growers Exchange has focused on providing top quality plants and garden accessories. They office is located in Richmond, VA and their nursery is in Charles City County, 25 miles east of Richmond along the shores of the historic James River. They sell herb plants not only locally, but also nationwide!