Exactly how did holly get into the winter holiday tradition? It is very likely that it followed the same path as what we now call the Christmas tree. Think about how inexplicable it must have been to prehistoric people that some trees, shrubs, bushes stayed green when all the others lost their leaves and went into their annual mourning of the sun. And when some of those evergreens produced cheerful red berries, well clearly it was a plant of great value and strength that had the ability to dismiss the evils of winter, its lack of fresh food, its bitter cold and biting winds. Must have been magic, right?
Holly is an ancient plant, older even than the continental plate shifts that formed our current geographic configurations. In fact, holly, in all its variants, is native to all the fertile continents. China alone has 204 varieties. The leaves can vary from dark to medium to variegated and so on. It can be successfully planted in the shade. While it is slightly toxic to humans, the holly and its berries are an important food source to many birds and wild animals.
Sometimes we listen to music in an odd state of both comfort and oblivion. We sing the verses and rarely stop to make sense of the actual words. Songs, like stories, are handed down and each singer and teller adorns them with different nuances and significance. As succeeding religions around the world became popular, they frequently adopted elements of the previous. In one primeval carol, The Holly And The Ivy, there are references to both Christian and Pre-Christian symbolism. Early Celtic populations across north western Europe celebrated the solstice, the return of the sun, combined with what the sun’s return represented, the earth’s fertility. The stag was a frequent icon of impressive fertility. There are references to priests and kings being robed in deerskins and antlered crowns for participation in the “running of the deer” revels, or at least the human interpretation of it. Those antlers were supposed to be draped with the magical holly. When the Christians arrived, the holly was then said to represent a crown of thorns and the berry drops of Christ’s blood.
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.
The rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.
Whatever your taste in songs and stories, ‘tis the season to indulge. Speaking of indulgence, this week we are offering a Chocolate Peppermint Truffle Tart. This has to be the easiest (and richest) dessert I have ever made. It is recommended that, however you decorate it, you served it with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Don’t forget to take a look at our website for many other festive recipes including: Eggnog Pie, Cranberry Walnut Tart, Pork Standing Rib with Cardamom Current Sauce, Spicy Pumpkin Bundt Cake, Stilton Tart with Cranberry Chutney and Crustless Chestnut Pie. Whatever you choose to put on your table, enjoy it with people you love and have a wonderful holiday.