Holiday greens hold many meanings, perfect for season of hope
By Margaret Realy
If you celebrate Christmas then you have had Christmas trees, wreaths or garlands in your home at some time in your life. Beyond the Yuletide festivities, evergreens also have symbolic meaning. Collectively, evergreens for early Christians symbolized everlasting life because their boughs stay green all year.
A wreath, being a circle, has no beginning or end and symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. The wreath when decorated with evergreens, which are symbolic of life itself, points to God’s gift of life even when the world is dark.
Many kinds of evergreens are used when we make or buy wreaths, swags and garlands. Each type of evergreen has its own symbolic meaning.
The most commonly used evergreen for wreaths is balsam, which has the symbolic meaning of eager anticipation. Also frequently used in garlands as well as wreaths and swags are fir boughs symbolizing a lifting up, and pine which holds the meaning of eternal life. Spruce boughs represent hope in adversity.
Cedar is one of the more fragrant and longer lasting evergreens and indicates incorruptibility and healing, and so it is associated with eternal life through Christ.
Juniper symbolizes protection, and that they do well. If you’ve ever had to trim juniper branches you know how prickly and harsh they can be; a great shrub to plant under windows to ward off intruders.
Holly carries a few different symbolisms. In the “language of flowers,” it means to foresee, as in to understand in such a way as to predict, to prophesy. Holly is used as a reminder of where Jesus’ birth and life will lead; its prickly leaves are reminiscent of the crown of thorns and the red berries of the blood he shed upon the cross.
There are other non-evergreen plants often used in Christmas decor. Bay laurel symbolizes a just reward, a victory over death. The delicate white-berry mistletoe is said to represent overcoming difficulties. And the ivy holds one of the dearest images; that of clinging to God. It also symbolizes protection, joy and fidelity.
The herb rosemary carries legends as well as a symbolic meaning. Rosemary was common in Mary’s time and it is said that not only were its fragrant branches laid with the straw of the manger, but that Mary would also lay the freshly washed clothes of the infant Jesus on rosemary bushes to dry. The fragrance of this herb symbolizes remembrances, calling to mind the life of Jesus from the nativity manger to the empty tomb.
So now, when you look at the shape of that decorated tree, the wreath on the door or the evergreen arrangement on your table, you know they say more to you and your guests than Merry Christmas.