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
- 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!
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!
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!