Decorations and lights

part of a series on the traditions of Christmas

Decking the hall with boughs of holly may have given way to chains of streamers, but decorating our homes has been part of Christmas for hundreds of years. Bringing evergreen plants such as holly, ivy and mistletoe was a way of saying that the natural is still alive even when winter has killed much of it off. From the Roman times and even earlier homes, temples, altars and sanctuaries have been decorated with plants that resist the colds and make a stand against the ravages of winter.

After the Roman Empire was christianised some Christian saw evergreens as pagan symbols which had no places in the churches or homes of Christians. Others, and chiefly Pope Gregory the Great thought there was nothing wrong to use nature’s gifts to celebrate Christ and so the tradition continued.

Evergreens have always been symbols of fertility. The holy represents the male and the ivy the female, and having the two entwined would ensure good crops and many children. Kissing under the mistletoe was a way of bringing fruitfulness to a relationship.

Lights have always been part of winter and Christmas celebrations as well. Candles drive away the dark and were more easily adopted by Christians as part of their celebration of Christmas, with its associations with Jesus as the light of the world.

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