Happy holly-days: The history of holly at Christmas

The holiday season is officially here, and with it comes trees, lights, mistletoe + holly! These things are so much more than pretty decorations though—they’re tradition. While it could take a lifetime to learn about each Christmas tradition, you can’t say “holiday” without “holly”—so where did that one come from?

Long before Christmas trees were brought home and decorated each year, holly was considered by the Druids to be a sacred plant. Holly’s hardiness even through the winter—remaining strong and vibrant green with red berries—helped symbolize eternal life and fertility. It was a sign of good luck to have holly in your home, and there was bad luck to anyone who cut holly trees down.

The ancient Romans used holly as décor at Saturnalia—a festival honoring Saturn, the god of agriculture. Holly represented harvest and the start of a new season.

In ancient Gaul, the Celtic peoples wore holly wreaths to sacred rites and festivals. They viewed it as a form of protection from evil spirits.

Today, Christians view holly as a symbolic plant during Christmastime. The berries represent the blood shed by Jesus when he died on the cross, and the holly leaves represent the crown of thorns he wore on the cross. Some stories of Jesus’ death claim that holly sprang up from the earth at his footsteps. In Scandinavia, holly is known as “Christ thorn”—literally christdorn in German.

The magical + protective qualities of holly might lend more reason to deck the halls with boughs of it this year! Holly remains strong and vibrant during the winter, it’s easy to care for, and of course it adds the perfect touch of Christmas tradition to your décor!


Looking to add a little more cheer to your home this season? Stop by GSCO + grab a holly tree. We’ll be happy to help you choose the perfect variety for your home!