TRIVIA TRAIL # 6: THE WINTER SOLSTICE

Winter Solstice

Question: Why do some people decorate their homes with holly and ivy at Christmas time?

Answer: Because that’s what pagans celebrating the Winter Solstice did. The decorative use of holly, ivy, and other greenery at Christmas time originated with the Winter Solstice (which occurs tomorrow, December 21st). By the middle of the 4th century, the Christian church was trying to draw European pagans into the fold. One of the ways it did this was to celebrate major Christian festivals around the same time of year that pagans celebrated a major festival. For Christians, holly’s red berries and prickly leaves represent Jesus’s blood and crown of thorns; ivy (a climbing plant requiring support) demonstrates how people require God’s support; and the tradition of kissing under a sprig of mistletoe is supposed to promote Christian virtues such as love and friendship. In pagan times, however, holly and ivy were fashioned into wreaths and placed in houses during the winter months because they were both hardy plants and it was thought that their ability to survive the harshness of winter could help the householders do the same. Mistletoe, which grew on the oak trees sacred to pagan peoples, was placed in homes to bring good luck, as its winter fruit symbolized new life during the darkness of winter.

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