How to… Bring Nature Into Your Home This Christmas

Christmas for me, alongside being all about family, friendship and feeling grateful, is deep rooted in nature. This is not unusual though, as people have been taking direction from nature during mid-winter celebrations for thousands of years. From the Romans decorating their homes with greenery to the Victorian Christmas tree, from pagans to Christians, the inspiration for how Christmas looks today has often come from the world outside our doors. For me, every year during December, I also bring nature into my home in the form of plant life. But why and how?

Plants and Christmas

During the winter and Christmas period, it’s popular for evergreens to be brought into our homes to be used as decorations. This practice has been observed for thousands of years, evolving but often holding the same symbolism and meaning. Evergreens are a traditional symbol of everlasting life due to their longevity, and were worshipped by pagans as symbols of immortality and everlasting light, being used to ward off illness and evil spirits. The bright natural colours of evergreens have also long provided inspiration for many, and still do during the cold, dark days of winter. They are a symbol of celebration and remind us that the days of spring will return in time.

Some Christmas examples include:

Mistletoe – A long history in Britain from being sacred to the druids and warding off evil spirits during the Middle Ages to symbolising healing, shelter and fertility. It was once banned from Christian churches due to its pagan links. The Victorians gave the plant its modern tradition of being hung in a doorway to kiss under, though the exact reason why we do this is still unknown.

Holly – Long associated with fertility, protection and eternal life in Britain, due to being able to withstand harsh conditions. It was originally brought into people’s homes to ward off witches and malevolent spirits during the dark months, before being adopted by the Church to symbolise Jesus’ sacrifice (prickles= thorns and berries= spilt blood).

Poinsettas – Native to Mexico and brought over from America, the flowers have become a meaningful symbol of Christmas. Their star shape is thought to symbolise the Star of Bethlehem, and the colours either purity or the spilt blood of Christ. For some, Poinsettas also symbolise new life.

Ivy – Symbolises everlasting life, resurrection, rebirth, and the coming of spring. During Christmas time, Ivy is closely associated with Holly, being once considered a female plant whereas Holly was the matching male plant. It was said that whichever of these two species was brought into the house first during the winter, would predict whether a man or woman would be in charge of the house for the next year. Now popular at Christmas, Ivy was once banished from homes by the Christian church due to its ability to grow in the shade, giving it associations with secrecy and debauchery.

How to make your own Christmas decorations

Bringing nature into your home is a great way to brighten things up and add a bit of colour to your Christmas festivities. Though it is understandable if you feel daunted by the prospect of turning your hand to making your very own decorations for the first time, such as a wreath or centrepiece, it is actually a simple and a great way to create decorations personal to you. Using natural materials can be a fun and easy way to do this, so why not try something new and have a go! For a little inspiration and some tips, here are some of the decorations that I put together for my family home each year, including this year.

Popularly Used Species

  • Holly – With and without berries
  • Ivy
  • Rose hips
  • Teasels – Some sprayed with non-toxic paint

Centrepiece and Mantlepiece Decorations

For my centrepiece and mantelpiece decorations, every year I simply use a couple of small metal buckets with a bit of oasis in them. My squares of oasis are reused again and again each year, so if you are starting out it is better to use a non-toxic, biodegradable alternative that will not harm the environment.

To begin putting together one of my Christmas arrangements, I start with placing a candle at the centre (though it is simply for decoration). I then build up from there, beginning with a few Teasels around or behind the candle, then adding Holly with and without berries, Rose hips, and Ivy. You can arrange the greenery however you want and add what you like. It is a bit of fun of course!

Basic Wreath

A wreath’s circular shape has long been seen as a symbol of eternal love and rebirth. They can first be traced back to early Roman times, where wreaths were made and given during the festival of Saturnalia each year (check out my blog post: The Twists of Christmas Traditions for more information).

To begin my wreath, I use a basic wooden wreath as my base and work from there. I usually start by wrapping Holly around the base and adding extra Holly with and without berries. This year I was happy with just Holly, but other years I have added Ivy and other greenery, and decorations such as ribbon. Less is more though, and watch out for the Holly’s spiky prickles!

Vase Arrangements

To finish my Christmas decorations, I like to use whatever greenery I have left to create some simple vase arrangements in fun vases. Teasels and Ivy are a great mix for this, adding a little colour and decoration to any room.


When collecting your greenery, pick only what you need, especially when picking plants with berries, such as Holly. These berries are a source of food for animals during the winter, so it is important that we leave some for them too.

Stay safe and Merry Christmas!

The Twists of Christmas Traditions

December is a time for magic and the sparking of our imaginations to bring us warmth through bleak days and long cold nights. As the end of the month draws near, our worlds are filling with images of twinkling lights, decadent festive food, and idyllic Christmas card scenes. We welcome Christmas traditions back into our homes, spend time being thankful for what we have, and spend time with family. For how Christmas is shaped today we have the Victorians to thank, but for many of our modern day traditions their origins lay even further back, from times when celebrations were deep rooted in our wild landscapes. As Christmas creeps closer, let’s take a look back at the origins of a few popular traditions, and get in touch with our wild and remarkable past.

The celebration of mid-winter can be traced as far back as the Roman times. Even before the birth of Jesus, the Romans celebrated this time of year with a festival called Saturnalia, a pagan festival honouring Saturn the Roman god of agriculture and fertility. It was a celebration of the year’s harvest, whilst looking forward to the spring and return of the sun, and trying to ensure a successful next harvest. Starting around the 17th of December, the Romans would offer gifts and sacrifices, decorate their houses with wreaths and greenery, wear colourful clothing, light candles, hold feasts, and be merry. Today’s paper crowns and festive hats can also be traced back to the Romans and Saturnalia. Thus, it is not a new thing to honour the end of the year and welcome the next with colourful celebrations and festivities!

One part of the magic of Christmas for me is the making of sweet treats that are only associated with this time of year. For example, sweet biscuits have long been made to mark Christmas festivities, gaining their spiced flavour, reminiscent of winter, during the Middle Ages. This evolved into gingerbread men, first appearing in 16th century England when Queen Elizabeth I had them made to impress foreign dignitaries and subjects in court. A century later, gingerbread houses joined Christmas traditions, becoming popular in Germany in 1812 following the publication of the Brothers Grimm story, Hansel and Gretel. For many years now I have continued the tradition of making both gingerbread men and houses as part of my Christmas celebrations!

Though the first sweet mince pie is a more recent creation, the first genuine mince pie was enjoyed during the Middle Ages, hundreds of years ago. These mince pies were instead filled with savoury minced meat, chopped fruit, and a preserving liquid, and were larger than those we know today. Traditionally people would eat one of these mince pies every day from Christmas to Twelfth Night (5th January), otherwise it was said that they would suffer misfortune for the whole of the next year. Since then the mince pie has undergone its evolution, becoming the mince pie many of us know and love today.

From the Yule log to stollen, many Christmas sweet treats have been around for hundreds of years. One such is the iconic candy cane that originated in 1670’s Germany. It was said that they were first made as white candy sticks by the choirmaster of Cologne cathedral to give to young singers to keep them still during the long Christmas Eve church services each year. If this is true or not, by 1900 they had taken on their curved shape, red stripes and peppermint flavouring reminiscent of Christmas.

Many of our Christmas traditions and symbols are rooted in nature, for example one popular symbol of Christmas close to nature is the Robin. It is unknown exactly why this is so, but there are lots of interesting legends and reasons associated. For example:

  • A Robin was at the birth of Jesus, and fanned the flames of the dying fire to keep Mary and Jesus warm. The Robin’s breast was scorched by a stray ember though, and so for the bird’s kindness, Mary declared that this badge of kindness would in memory pass on to the Robin’s descendants
  • In the UK, Robins are seen in increased numbers in our gardens during the winter months
  • Royal Mail postmen were nicknamed Robins during the Victorian times due to their bright red uniforms

Whatever the true reason, they are a colourful addition to Christmas celebrations!

Even the origins of Father Christmas can be connected to nature. Though the image of Santa Claus and his reindeer sleigh first came to our shores from America in the 1870s, the idea of Father Christmas has been around for a very long time. Father Christmas was once associated with pagan winter festivals in the 17th century and represented the coming of spring. He was dressed all in green with a wreath of Holly, Mistletoe, or Ivy and was a symbol of happy times, and those to come, brightening winter celebrations.

During the festive period, one ancient custom is still being practised in orchards across the country. Traditionally held on Twelfth Night (5th January), this 400 year old tradition is called Apple Wassailing, where wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon for whole or healthy. During these celebrations, a wassail king and queen would lead a group of revellers to an orchard, where cider would be poured over the roots of the largest and most prolific apple tree, known as the Apple Tree Man, cider-soaked toast would be hung in its branches, and a toast would be made to the health of the tree. This tradition aimed to scare away bad spirits in the orchard and wake up the trees in the hope of a bountiful harvest next autumn!

One of the most popular modern Christmas traditions still celebrated across the UK is putting up a Christmas tree. Last year alone, ninety per cent of families in the UK put up a Christmas tree in their home. This tradition first became popular during the Victorian era, when Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert brought trees over from Germany for his family in 1840. Despite this, the first Christmas tree was actually brought to England in 1800, by Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III.

Greenery has long been used to decorate homes during the winter, with trees even being used during the Roman times. In some countries, evergreen boughs were believed to keep evil spirits and illness away, but most importantly they were a reminder that abundance would once again return. Check out my next Christmas-themed blog post out on Monday 21st to take a look at the history of natural decorations, and how you can bring some natural colour into your own home this Christmas.

However you celebrate Christmas time, it is important to stop and think about where our traditions come from. They are rich in history and meaning and can allow us to anchor ourselves during a turbulent season. My favourite parts of Christmas often relate to nature and baking, which have long been a part of celebrating this time of year. Why not join me in honouring our history and start a new Christmas tradition this year!