In the rush to cross everyone off our holiday gift lists and to select the most suitable decorations to create the perfect ambience within our homes, we may overlook the importance of the plants that make this time of year so cheerful. Let us look at three such winter-themed plants to see how they each contribute to the long-standing custom of using live greenery indoors.
Germany is credited with decorating trees as far back as the 16th century and later, bringing the tradition to Pennsylvania when they immigrated. It wasn’t until the early 20th century, however, that this custom of bringing living trees inside and adorning them with colorful ornaments and garlands of beads or popcorn, became a trend in the United States.
Early Christmas trees in this country were said to have been extreme fire hazards. Before electricity, candles were used to add light to the family tree.
Needless to say, many trees caught fire, as a result of many lit candles being left unattended overnight. Lack of regular watering was also caused the increase of Christmas tree-related fires.
Over time, this vital fact has not changed. Whether the chosen evergreen is a fir, pine, spruce or cedar, regular and sufficient watering is of the utmost importance to ensure the tree does not dry out.
Apart from the Christmas tree, the poinsettia is the plant that most people associate with the holiday season. In 2020, more than 2 million poinsettia plants were sold. Thus, it became the most popular potted flower crop in the United States.
Native to Mexico and Central America, the poinsettia has primarily evolved into a symbol of Christmas because the shape of its colorful flowers is thought to resemble the Star of Bethlehem.
Poinsettias were first introduced to the United States by, and eventually named for, Joel Roberts Poinsett. Appointed by President John Quincy Adams, Poinsett was the first United States Ambassador to Mexico.
Mesmerized by the plant’s unique beauty and wide variety of colors, avid gardener Poinsett brought numerous poinsettia cuttings back to his greenhouse in Charleston, South Carolina. For 150 years, to honor the anniversary of Poinsett’s death, Dec. 12 has been considered National Poinsettia Day. It was made official by an Act of Congress in 2002.
Holly and Ivy
In pre-Christian times, holly and ivy were originally used during the celebration of the Winter Solstice Festival. During these times, it was believed that holly and ivy together, could not only ward off evil spirits, but also the pair was thought to represent new growth.
Today, unlike many European countries, the tradition of using holly and ivy to decorate inside the home is not as popular in the United States.
However, all over the world, where Christianity is practiced, holly and ivy continue to take on special meanings.
Holly’s prickly leaves represent the crown of thorns worn by Jesus at his crucifixion. Its poisonous red berries represent the drops of blood the thorns caused Jesus to shed.
Ivy needs something to attach to in order to support itself as it grows. In Christianity, this concept reminds us of the importance of looking to God for guidance and support in our lives.
Whether you have already decked out your home for the holiday season, or you still have that yet to do, I hope this article leaves you with a better knowledge and appreciation of how some of the most recognized and cherished traditions came to be celebrated as they are today.
Source: “Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac”; “Early Christmas”; ”Ho, Ho, Ho!: The Complete Book of Christmas Words”; almanac.com/poinsettia-christmas-story; davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/2731; flowerkingdom.com/blog/the-symbolic-significance-of-holly; history.com/.amp/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas-trees; whychristmas.com/customs/poinsettia.shtml
The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or [email protected], or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.