H is for Holly – the history interpreter’s historical advent calendar

More pudding boiling today. The snag with pudding making is that one always feels obliged to consume the remainder of the can of barley wine. As my recipe only requires an eight of a pint that leaves rather a lot to finish up. So, yesterday I was drinking alone and before 9.00am, definately before the sun was even approaching any sort of yardarm. As I rarely drink at all, this did leave one with a warm sort of a glow. Today it was time to rub brandy over the bottoms of the Christmas cakes, so again I end up reeking of alcohol.

Then there was a bit of an incident with the candles. The glass holder broke and the glitter on the glass holly balls was  interestingly flammable. Oh the joys of the festive season. Surely I can write Christmas cards without incident.


Hogmanay’s origins date back to pagan rituals that marked the time of the winter solstice. Roman Saturnalia celebrations and the Viking celebrations of Yule (the origin of the twelve days of Christmas) were combined in Scottish celebrations of the New Year. Another Hogmanay custom is to thoroughly clean the house and burn juniper to rid the house of evil spirits in the coming year.

Many Hogmanay traditions involve fire, another throwback to pagan and Viking times. It is believed fire symbolized the sun’s return after the winter solstice or was used to ward off evil spirits.


Holly, Saturn’s sacred plant, was used to decorate Roman homes and images of Saturn during Saturnalia. They also gave each other holly wreaths.

This was taken up by early Christians trying to avoid persecution. They gradually converted it to a Christian custom and it came to represent the crown of thorns. Some believe that the holly originally had yellow berries and these became stained red with he blood of Christ.

Holly, from the Old English ‘Hollin’ was regarded as a magical plant and was also used in other pagan rituals. Druids believed that holly was evergreen, with attractive berries so the world was still beautiful when the oak shed it leaves. Druids wore holly wreaths when they went to cut mistletoe. Both the oak and the mistletoe were sacred to the druids.

Holly was used to protect people from witchcraft, although fairies and elves were thought to live in holly bushes. A holly walking stick was thought to protect the user from wild animal attack. To ensure pleasant dreams, holly should be tied to the bedpost.


2 comments on “H is for Holly – the history interpreter’s historical advent calendar

  1. Liz says:

    Reblogged this on languagesupportuk and commented:
    Holly and Hogmanay all great for the yule tidings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s