Decorating with Holly branches is just one of many Christmas traditions that come from the forest. Its green foliage and bright red berries stand out in a bleak winter landscape, which has attracted mankind to it for centuries.
Long ago Druids (tree worshippers) believed the Holly remained green during winter so the world would retain a remnant of beauty during the bleak winter so summer would return. They often wore sprigs of Holly in their hair during celebrations, and would bring branches into their homes to wood spirits a refuge from the frigid winter. Holly was said to repel poison, lightening, and witchcraft.
Early Christians decorated their homes and churches with Holly at Christmas time. They called it “holy tree”. The pointed leaves resembled the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. And the red berries symbolized the drops of blood he shed. Because the Holly had come to stand for peace and joy, people often settled quarrels beneath one. A sprig of Holly on the bedpost was supposed to bring happy dreams.
Holly makes a great addition to the home landscape, and there are many varieties available from nurseries. Keep in mind that a Holly will have either male flowers only or female. In science lingo the Holly is dioecious (Greek, meaning “two houses”). Most trees like oaks and such are monecious and have flowers with both sexes present on the same tree. In simpler terms you have boy Hollies and girl Hollies, and only the girls will have berries. So in order to have berries you need to plant both sexes. Female trees are available that have a male Holly branch grafted onto them so that the female flowers are pollinated and produce berries. Ask your nursery dude about it.
Holly is an easy to grow tree. About the only restriction is that it needs a well drained soil. It is tolerant of shade and under good conditions should grow at a fair pace. Birds, especially Cedar Waxwings, will enjoy the fruit, and you will have a ready source of Holly sprigs to bring in your house during Christmas and help keep those wood spirits warm. Have a green Christmas.