Updated: Nov 30, 2021
After mistletoe, holly is probably the most festive flower there is. Its evergreen nature means its leaves are more thick-skinned than most other flowers and shrubs, giving it an ability to survive the harshness winter. It has become a symbol of the season, having Christmas carols written about it, while it’s also constantly seen on Christmas cards.
But given how many different evergreen plants there are, what makes holly so Christmassy? The link between Christmas and holly can be traced to Roman times, when it was the sacred plant of Saturn. In honour of their god of agriculture, the Romans would send boughs of holly to friends to mark the Saturnalia Festival, celebrated between December 17 and 23 – the darkest time of the year – as well as decorating their homes with garlands of evergreen flowers.
They felt that doing so was an appropriate way to anticipate the growth of crops and flowers as winter got ready to change into spring, and as the Romans adopted Christianity, holly became a symbol of Christmas instead.
In fact, across northern Europe, the home of the holly plant, Pagans and Druids would also wear holly in wreaths on their heads, in the hope of warding off evil spirits. This was because the plant was believed to possess magical qualities by them.
Of course, while holly makes a nice decoration, holly bushes are toxic – consuming too many of its berries can be fatal, and side effects can also include nausea, vomiting and stomach problems. So while holly might be good to look at, remember to be cautious around it, especially with children and pets.