Holly, Mistletoe, and Poinsettia

Adam's Apple

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Apr 25, 2004
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5 for The Season
By Candace Johnson, The Indianapolis Star
December 9, 2006

--Holly has its roots in pagan traditions, with the Druids believing that the plant stayed green to keep the earth beautiful after the sacred oak lost its leaves.
--Holly was believed to frighten off witches and protect the home from thunder and lightning.
--The plant is believed to be the sacred plant of Saturn, Roman god of the harvest. It was used to honor him at the Saturnalia festival.
--Holly got its ties to Christmas this way: In mid- December, during the Saturnalia festival, the early Christians decorated with holly to avoid persecution. As the number of Christians grew, holly became associated with Christmas and lost its pagan roots.
--The plant has come to stand for peace and joy.
--Holly plants are among the few that can be grown in all 50 states.
--There are about 400 species of holly trees and shrubs, but the English and American hollies are most recognizable for Christmas due to their striking evergreen foliage.


--Mistletoe symbolizes peace and joy. The Druids deemed that whenever enemies met under it they had to lay down their arms and observe a truce until the next day.
--In the 18th century, if a couple kissed under it, it was a promise to marry.
Mistletoe is a rootless aerial plant that lives off the tree it attaches itself to.
--Celtic people thought mistletoe possessed miraculous healing powers.
--In the U.S., it grows in tropical and subtropical areas (New Jersey to Florida).
--The plant's flowers can be a variety of colors, from bright red to yellow to green.
--An old French legend says it was cursed to be a parasite because it grew on the tree from which Jesus' cross was made.
--Another legend traces mistletoe back to Frigga, the Viking goddess of love, who used it to raise her son, Balder, from the dead. Balder, coincidentally, was killed by a dart tinged with mistletoe.


--In Central America, it's called "Flame Leaf" or "Flower of the Holy Night."
--It was first brought to the United States from its native Mexico more than 100years ago by Dr. Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
--Most of the poinsettias in use now in this country come from California.
--The poinsettia legend stems from a Mexican girl named Maria and her little brother, Pablo. Each year, their village church set up a manger scene but the two were sad because they never had money for presents, especially for the Baby Jesus. One Christmas Eve, they picked weeds along the road and set them in the manger. While they were being teased by the other children, the weeds miraculously began to grow red petals on top. Soon, the manger was surrounded by the star-like flowers we see today.

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