The holly and the ivy

When they are both full grown

Of all the trees that are in the wood

The holly bears the crown.

As we sit back and enjoy the festive season surrounded by colourful decorations it is worth reflecting on some fascinating folklore facts associated with the familiar trappings of the celebrations.

Since Pagan times, berry-bearing sprigs of holly have been used to decorate houses.

Called the 'holy tree' by medieval monks and 'holm' in later times, the name now stands for foresight. Only the female tree bears berries.

Folklore dictates that witches fear holly but fairies and elves take shelter in the branches and protect families from goblins!

Being a good luck symbol it was considered very unlucky to cut down a holly bush or bring its branches into the house until Christmas eve.

The ancient Greeks believed that a holly tree planted near the house would ward off evil spirits and divert lightening strikes.

A native British evergreen, the hard whitish wood was used in the past for inlay work and carving.

Ivy, a sign of fidelity, love, friendship and immortality was at one time also used as a Christmas decoration but the practice seems to have fallen out of favour recently.

Ivy too afforded protection from witches. Interestingly, both holly and ivy host at different seasons of the year to caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly, often seen in our gardens.