The holly and the ivy
When they are full grown,
Of all the trees in the wood
The holly bears the crown.
The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do sinners good.
Yesterday I decorated some red pillar candles with sprigs of holly for the Moravian style service we will have today at our church. It made me think of Christmas carols, of “Decking Halls” and Fa La La – ing, and the Winter solstice tradition of “bringing in the greens” I read about in books.
Bringing Bay and Laurel, Pine and Cedar, Magnolia and Holly boughs in to decorate uses these evergreens as reminders that life will go on even in deep winter. I learned even the Romans would bring in Laurel trees and use spices and pine resins for their perfumes, thought to bring healing and health through the winter months.
Going back to these earliest of times there was supposedly a contest between the holly standing in for men and ivy representing women. So a very early song has it this way:
- Holly stands in the hall, fair to behold: Ivy stands without the door, she is full sore a cold. Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis; Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.
- Holly and his merry men, they dance and they sing, Ivy and her maidens, they weep and they wring. Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis; Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.
And I guess holly must have won because I didn’t even realize ivy was supposed to be included in the greens at Christmas. Sorry Ladies! But in any event, early Christians in picking up these traditions modified them into their own symbols, so the red berries of the Holly are said to represent the drops of blood Christ shed and the leaves the everlasting life he won for us by shedding them.
It’s that time of year. Beauty and business, lights and wrapping paper, Santa and sleigh bells, boxes and bags and baking, but most of all, life born into the stillness of a cold, dark, night, a gift of hope, a star to remind us.
And I, like you, still have lots to do. Today will bring (hopefully) the last of the wrapping and I will bake our family’s traditional ginger cookies to take with me for our grandchildren to frost for Santa.
But my day will start with a service of carols and scripture, simple Moravian buns and coffee and fellowship. For me it is a reminder that love and gifts do not need fancy paper or elaborate bows, only the outreach of one heart to another.
So then just a simple wish from me to you, Merry Christmas and “May God bless us, everyone.”