In the 4th century AD, Pope Julius I decided to change the face of holidays forever when he deemed December 25 as the official date of Christmas. This date was chosen in order to coincide with Rome’s traditional winter festivals. Seasonal plants were a mainstay at these early winter parties and marked the season of giving.
Traditional seasonal plants are staples to our home décor these days. Plants such as ivy, holly, and mistletoe are all steeped in tradition. For instance, holly’s Christian symbolism and mistletoe’s pagan origins have made the two plants rivals, of sorts, for centuries. Mistletoe was associated with the Norse goddess of love–which explains all the kissing–while Christians promoted holly for its connection to Christ.
Holly’s thorny leaves recall the crown of thorns and the Passion. Its evergreen color signifies eternal life, and the prominent blood red colored berries recall Christ’s suffering. In Renaissance art, holly often appears in Nativity panel paintings and altarpieces by masters like Allesandro Botticelli and Luca della Robbia among others. By the 18th Century, holly sprigs characteristically decorated church pews, colonial tavern walls, and windowpanes in America from the start of the Advent season through the Epiphany or January 6.
One familiar Colonial holiday invention was the kissing ball, a rounded form of seasonal greens suspended by a red ribbon. Popularized at historic sites such as Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia and Olde Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts, the hanging green kissing ball decoration was once the centerpiece of winter weddings and holiday parties during the playful month of December. In colonial times, December was the month that offered a festive mood based primarily on freedom from the chores associated with farming, harvest, and agriculture. The reduced winter workload encouraged many couples to host early winter weddings. Even the father of our country, George Washington, thought winter was a good time to tie the knot as he married Martha Dandridge Custis in 1759. Many couples are following in the Washingtons’ footsteps choosing winter months over summer ones for their weddings.
Wreaths notwithstanding, few plants say holiday like the poinsettia plant. In 1828, the Mexican poinsettia plant was introduced to Americans by our first ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Joel Poinsett. The decorative plant was revered for its green and red leaves that offer a bright addition to the monochromatic winter landscape. The poinsettia plant’s colors recall the law of complimentary colors made famous by the Post Impressionist artists, who often used red/green in their paintings. The complimentary color pair of red and green is more visually stimulating to the optic nerve when coupled together making the poinsettia plant an attractive addition to any holiday décor. Happy holidays!
Celebrity Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide. To learn more about your antiques, visit www.DrLoriV.com, www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori or call (888) 431-1010.