Just before Christmas we had a great decoration making event at our site in Coelbren. Lots of the decorations were inspired by and used materials collected from the countryside, including log reindeers and decorated pine cones. We also had a go at making wreaths. While I was out and about in the woods the week before, collecting greenery for people to use, I started thinking about the different plants associated with Christmas and wondering about the history of wreaths and why holly and ivy are festive plants.
The idea of a traditional Christmas tree dates back to the Victorian period, but for hundreds of years before this, people have been bringing greenery into their homes in the winter months.
In pagan times, people brought evergreen plants such as holly and ivy into their homes at the darkest time of year to ward off evil spirits, remind them that spring will come again and celebrate the promise of new growth.
More recently, Christian symbolism has been attached to the plants. For example, holly is said to represent the crown of thorns, with the berries as drops of blood. Ivy has to cling to trees to grow and this is said to represent people growing with God.
Many songs and carols have been written about holly and ivy and they are a core part of our Christmas traditions.
Wreaths date back to the Roman times, where laurel wreaths were worn as a symbol of status and achievement. Christmas wreaths are traditionally made from evergreen plants such as holly, ivy and laurel, which symbolise nature battling against winter. The shape of a continuous circle represents eternal life. Putting wreath on your front door is also a traditional way of welcoming people into the home in winter.
Finally, as well as warding off evil spirits, religious symbolism and festive cheer, bringing greenery into your home has been shown to have a positive impact on mental and physical health. In a time when society seems to be getting more and more disconnected from the natural world, Christmas is a time when we can really appreciate what is around us by heading out for a walk or bringing a little bit of outside in.
Pictures from our day of crafting are on Facebook.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from everyone at National Trust Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire!
Community Engagement Ranger