Ivy – The Christmas Magic and History Behind It

Ivy Christmas Wreath

What are Christmas decorations without some beautiful ivy wrapped around a stairway or wreath? Many people have used this delightful greenery as a Christmas decoration, but have you ever wondered why? Maybe you are familiar with the old 17th – 18th century Christmas carol, The Holly and the Ivy. How did this unique plant make its way into Christmas songs, traditions, and decorations?

When you begin to study the characteristics of plants, you begin to see what sets them apart from others. There is always more than meets the eye, and ivy is no exception. This climbing plant stays lush and green even when the weather outside is frightful.

The plant’s Spiderman-like powers helps it cling to some of the smoothest surfaces without a problem. Its winter existence helps to bring nourishment and life in the dead of wintertime to many winter animals. The plant produces flowers and even small blackberries in the late fall and winter. These berries are a yummy treat for winter animals. However, for humans the berries are very poisonous, so make sure to stay away.

The Symbolic Meanings of Ivy

Ivy actually refers to a number of different ornamental plants that climb or creep. The Christmas decoration variety is called Hedera helix which is a member of the ginseng family. While we might decorate our home with ivy, you might be surprised by the symbolic meanings it has been known to portray.

Having connections to the earth seem to be a strong trait of cultures in earlier eras. Throughout history and literature, we see that they often took qualities of many of plants and used those to create associations with strong symbolism. This might be harder to do in our modern culture as we are not as immediately dependent on plants and therefore, we might miss altogether why a plant like ivy is used for Christmas decorations.

Ivy growing on tree For ivy, it has many traits that make it a unique plant. Ivy has characteristics that include its amazing ability to flourish in the shade, its lush greenery all winter long as an evergreen, and it superhero like powers to cling to almost anything as it grows help to associate this plant with a lot of symbolism.

Some associations have even taken a negative direction. In fact, ivy was successfully removed from Christian homes and even banished from churches for sometime due to these associations. Being a plant that flourishes in the shade might give reason to add a negative connotation to the plant. The ability to grow in darkness connects the plant to notions of secrecy, debauchery, and hidden desires.

In addition, ivy has been known to be portrayed as foretelling. This might be associated with the fact that it is an evergreen plant. Being an evergreen means that it stays green all year round. This characteristic has given ivy connections to themes like of eternal beauty as it reaches beyond seasons.

In Scotland, it was known that if you wanted to find out who your future mate might be, you were to hold the ivy leaf against your breast and recite, “Ivy, Ivy, I love you, In my bosom I put you, The first young man who speaks to me, My future husband he shall be.”

For a more positive symbolic association, due to ivy’s clingy characteristic, it can symbolize faithfulness, and connections of closeness, friendship and love relationship. This might be one that helps us most connect to the Christmas season.

Ivy throughout History

While we use ivy in Christmas decorations today, it was actually customary to use ivy in winter to decorate in Pagan cultures much longer than the birth of Christianity. The beauty of their ever lingering greenery throughout winter has long been a tradition. In fact, according to “The Green Mountain Gardener,” Dr. Leonard Perry, ancient pagans even used the ivy to build wreaths and garlands all through the winter months.

Decorating with Ivy

Now that we have explored the symbolic significance, as well as some historical background, let’s now discover some fun ways to decorate our homes with ivy. You can use ivy in any way that you find beautiful. While ivy is most often used in wreaths or wrapped along a stairway banister, you can have fun and great creativity with it.

The deep and dark green color of ivy will immediately put you in a Christmas mood. Placing ivy on a plate with flowers and a votive, wrapping it in the shape of a tree to make a great centerpiece, or placing it through a wreath are just some ways people have used this green vine-like plant. You can even take Christmas lights and gently wrap the lights around the ivy, giving a festive look. Just be sure to turn off the lights when they are not attended.

Midwest Living has come up with a number of great ways to use ivy in your Christmas decorations. One particular beautiful way to use ivy is in the bottom of the pot of your poinsettia plant. The cascading green leaves make a stunning contrast to the red flowers of the poinsettia. Another way Midwest Living suggested is to make a “kissing ball.” They suggest using the ivy to form a ball, draping ribbon around it and then adding a mistletoe ornament. This adds a fun and trendy way to add some mistletoe tradition and kissing to your home this holiday.

Tips for Growing Ivy

As we have mentioned before, this plant loves to grow in the shade. This makes it a great plant to use as ground cover in places that have a hard time. This might include spots under trees that has a hard time growing grass.

The great part of growing ivy is that it can grow in almost any soil condition. With its great ability to cling to any surface, you can train it to grow in just about any shape. They will grow wild if you let them, so don’t be afraid to train it and cut it back.

Take Away

The next time you see ivy used for Christmas decorations, you can look at it with new eyes. You can see an amazing plant with incredible qualities that has made its way into the traditions of so many lives and cultures throughout history.

Your Turn

What is your favorite way to decorate with ivy?


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