Every Friday, I will post some fun, interesting facts and traditional recipes that I have come across while researching my books.
Why we use the plants we do to decorate for the holiday season.
At this festive time of year, we decorate with colourful lights, wreaths, garlands of pine, ivy, holly, mistletoe, and of course a tree. These symbols of the season have been around since as long as any of us can remember, but have you ever wonder why we use these things to adorn our homes?
Holly, Ivy, laurel, rosemary and other plans such as pine and Mistletoe were originally used in pre-Christian times to help celebrate the Winter Solstice Festival, to ward off evil and to celebrate the rebirth of spring. Keep in mind, at that time mid March was considered the beginning of the new year. During the dark, cold winters, the wind howling was believed to be the voices of lamenting spirits. The greenery was brought into the home as a means of protection, in addition to ability to freshen the stale air. The Druids believed good spirits lived in the bushes of holly and wore sprigs in their hair when they took part in the rituals of cutting and gathering mistletoe. Believed to be male or female, the plant brought into the home first was said to determine who would rule the house in the upcoming year, the wife or the husband. However it was bad luck to bring either into the home before Christmas eve. Early Christians believed holly sprang from the feet of Christ as he roamed the earth, that the spiked leaves represented the thorny crown he wore during crucifixion, and the red berries symbolized the blood he shed for mankind. To avoid being persecuted during Roman pagan festivals, Christians decorated their homes with mistletoe and holly. Knowing the Romans would not fight in the presence of either plant. Mistletoe is another sacred plant according to the Norse, Celtic Druid and other pagan cultures. It is also believed sacred by North American Indians. Druid priests and their followers wore sprigs of holly in their hair when they entered the wood in search of mistletoe. Cut with a golden sickle, the mistletoe branches were caught before they could hit the ground, then distributed among the people, hung over doors as protection, was placed in a baby cradle to guard the infant from fairies and fed to the first cow that gave birth in the new year to protect the herd. In Scandinavia it was linked to the Norse goddess Frigga. When he son was killed by an arrow of mistletoe she wept tears of white berries that brought him back to life. Frigga blessed the plant and kissed all who passed under it, thus spawning the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. As the tradition continued, sprigs of mistletoe were hung from the rafters and it was said a maiden standing beneath it could not refuse a kiss. To do so would mean she’d never marry. The man she kissed would either become her husband or a dear friend for life. Other significant holiday plants are Laurel, if worn as a wreath on the head it symbolized victory of God over the Devil. Ivy, a plant the clings to walls and trees reminds us that we need to cling to God and religion for support. Rosemary, connected to the Virgin Mary because it was said to be her favorite plant, was said to protect people from evil, and to promote friendship and good will. Hanging a circle of evergreen in the form of a wreath during the winter months goes back to Roman times when they were hung on the doors after a victory. Roman women wore wreaths in their hair, as part of wedding ceremonies. The word wreath, ‘writhen or writhe’ in Old English meant to twist. Evergreen, a symbol of eternal life was thought to have special powers and used to decorate. Twisted into a wreath and adorned with holly and other sacred plants they offered protection and hope for the spring. Evergreen trees were used to celebrate winter festivals both pagan and Christian for thousands of years. No one is sure when they were first used as a Christmas tree, but it likely began in Northern Europe at least 1000 years ago. Scandinavian and German cultures were the first to use them and the tradition spread throughout Europe and later the new world. Queen Victoria, made the indoor tree popular during her reign, given her husband’s German ancestry. So the next time you hang a garland or decorate your tree, remember where the traditions first started.
Here is a traditional Scottish desert for you to try
Cranachan Recipe Serves 6
60g of coarse oatmeal
300g of fresh or frozen raspberries
600ml double cream
3 tablespoons of runny honey
3 tablespoons of malt whisky
Toast the oatmeal until it is golden brown, whip the double cream until it is thick, stir in the whisky honey and oatmeal and fold in the raspberries gently.
Spoon into individual glasses. Serve.