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The History of Christmas Plants: Poinsettia, Holly, and Mistletoe

Updated on May 2, 2018
kittythedreamer profile image

Kitty has extensively studied the history, traditions, and celebration of ancient and modern holidays.

There are more plants associated with Christmas than the evergreen tree.
There are more plants associated with Christmas than the evergreen tree. | Source

Christmas Plants and Their Roots

The Christmas tree has long been the pillar of Christmas décor, but what about some attention for the other Christmas plants? Poinsettia, Holly, and Mistletoe are all a part of Christmas history and legend, but they tend to be overshadowed by the evergreen Christmas tree.

Let's take a look at the history and beauty of the Poinsettia, the Holly, and the Mistletoe. Some of these Christmas plants' roots (no pun intended) may surprise and delight you this holiday season.


Poinsettia Christmas History

The Poinsettia is a plant that rears its red head every time the Holidays start creeping up. But there are other red flowers that aren't a staple at Christmas-time, so what's this plant's story?

Poinsettia Christmas history actually originates in the country of Mexico. It was traditional in Mexico to leave presents for Baby Jesus on the altars at Christmas Eve. The legend has it that one day a poor little boy knelt at the Church's door, and he was upset because he had nothing to leave as a gift for Jesus. He prayed, and right where he was kneeling blossomed a beautiful poinsettia plant. From that point forward the plant was known in Mexico as the "Flower of the Holy Night". The plant was actually named after the first American Ambassador to travel to Mexico in the 1800s, by the name of Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett. He found the poinsettia plant to be beautiful and unique, and he brought it back to America with him where it was named in his honor.

These days almost every home and garden store sells poinsettia plants around the holidays, but does anyone know the story behind the poinsettia plant? Now you do!

Christmas Holly History

Much of our Christmas traditions of decorating with greenery has its roots in ancient times when the Pagan peoples used greenery to commemorate life in the dead of winter. One particularly special tree to the Celts was the Holly tree. The Holly tree was thought to hold a very regal status, and a modern-day Celtic ritual of the "Oak King" and the "Holly King" duking it out for rule over the year is still upheld to this day every Winter Solstice.

To the ancient Romans and before Christianity, Holly was popular as a gift during the Roman winter festival known as Saturnalia. It is actually thought that the Romans brought the Christmas Holly to England, where the people also found it to be quite magical. The Holly tree was thought to be sacred because it was an evergreen with shiny, bright green leaves and bright red berries...even in the winter.

In Medieval Times, the Holly was woven into many Christmas poems. It took the form of a handsome male with the female being the other well-loved Christmas plant called Ivy. Later the Christmas Holly was converted into a Christian symbol to represent the body of Christ.

Today Christmas Holly is still used in wreaths and garland, sometimes you can see it woven around Christmas trees or stair-rails. You can add a bit of Christmas Holly to your home to brighten up the house during the dark winter ahead.

"Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly!"


Christmas Mistletoe History

You will never see mistletoe in a Church, as it was regarded as an "evil" plant during the Middle Ages. The Church wanted to rid society of Pagan customs, and mistletoe was one of those customers; however, the tradition has survived and is still with us today. Because mistletoe can grow as sort of a parasite on trees and shrubs, it was thought to have the ability to take on particular trees' energies such as the oak tree. Germans, Greeks, and Celts all found mistletoe to be quite magical and related it to fertility, protection, and especially love.

Known as the "kissing bough", the tradition of mistletoe was to hang a small gathering of the plant above a door-frame and if two single people were to stand under it at once they were to kiss. This tradition probably started because of the belief that mistletoe had such powers of fertility and love. In some Northern European countries, people who were at war were said to stand under the mistletoe to "kiss and make up". There is also a legend of mistletoe relating directly back to the goddess Frigga. Because of these associations with pagan gods, the Church tried to eradicate the kissing bough from the people's celebrations of Christ's Mass; however, it was unsuccessful as the tradition still continues to this day!

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More Beloved Christmas Plants

In addition to the ever-popular Christmas Poinsettia, Holly, and Mistletoe plants, there are many other plants that can be used and enjoyed during the holiday season.

The Christmas tree is one that everyone knows and loves. People from many walks of life and faiths will erect either a faux or real Christmas tree in their homes every year. Some may call it the Christmas Tree, while others call it the "Yule" tree. Even people who do not have a faith may still put up and decorate a tree in their home, as it is a very popular tradition during the holidays. Ornaments, garland, tinsel, lights, and stars may be seen adorning each tree. What do you have on yours? The legends of the Christmas tree are just as interesting at the Christmas plants found here, but I will save the legend for another time.

Christmas ivy, rosemary, laurel, and Christmas cactus are all enjoyable greens that can be used in décor and traditions around your home this holiday season. Though we may take these plants for granted during the holidays, their humble and unique beginnings may surprise us all...

© 2012 Kitty Fields


Submit a Comment

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Kitty Fields 

    3 years ago from Summerland

    Coldsnow - Awesome! Thanks for reading!

  • profile image


    3 years ago

    I always learn something when I read your stories! Merry Christmas!!!

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Kitty Fields 

    4 years ago from Summerland

    Thanks, Nell! Yes poinsettias are gorgeous. :)

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    4 years ago from England

    I totally missed this one! I love Poinsettias I buy one every year, but didn't know the history behind it, great read kitty!

  • Eiddwen profile image


    6 years ago from Wales

    Interesting and useful .


  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Kitty Fields 

    6 years ago from Summerland

    Fossillady - Thanks so much, I agree! Happy Holidays.

    idigwebsites - I know, thanks to Mexico! Many blessings.

  • idigwebsites profile image


    6 years ago from United States

    The perfect Christmas plant, no wonder - big green leaves and big red petals. Gracias Mexico for bringing this wonderful plant! Voted up and interesting. :)

  • Fossillady profile image


    6 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

    It's always fun to learn how traditions got started. I really enjoy it, very interesting!


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