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Christmas Symbols and the History Behind Them

Posted by Suzie Canale on Wed, Dec 07, 2016

Christmas is the season for time-honored traditions experienced with friends and family.  We mark this special occasion by decorating with particular items in order to make our homes feel festive for ourselves and for those who visit.  Twinkle lights, wreaths and trees are in high demand throughout Boston and are slowly appearing on doors and spotted within windows.  Just by driving by a house lit up by tiny rainbow bulbs, many of us experience a feeling of uplift and immediate joy.  Holiday décor plays a very strong influence upon creating the magic that the Yule Tide brings and the emotions that effervesce from these beautiful signs we associate with Christmas.  Every year, families partake in seeking out these novelties but have you ever wondered where the traditional influence began?  Find out what makes a balsam a Christmas tree and why a circle of garland eventually resulted into a holiday wreath.  You may just be surprised how these icons earned their fame and resulted into our most cherished seasonal ornamentation!

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Christmas Trees

Here’s an interesting fact:  Did you know that Christmas trees are the only single variety of arbor grown in all 52 states?  Yup- and that even includes Alaska and Hawaii!  Balsam, spruce and fir species are the #1 cultivated species in the U.S. and that’s all because of our love for Christmas!  Historically, there’s a ton of stories claiming the truth behind the Christmas tree but the one I like best is the tale about how the ancient people in the northern hemisphere celebrated the winter’s solstice, (the longest day of the year).  They believed that the Sun God had cyclical levels of feeling well during the warmer season and weak during the cold.  On December 21st, there would be a celebration for the Sun God because it was the end of her “ailing term” (the cold dark nights) and the beginning of her health once again (the return of heat and sunlight).  The people would mark this occasion by using pine and evergreen boughs to hang in their homes as a gesture for an early spring arrival.  They chose pine because it held its bright green color throughout the year.  The early Vikings and Romans also implemented a similar ritual when they displayed Christmas trees as a sign of continued health and everlasting life.

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Wreaths

As you can imagine, wreaths have been used as a symbol throughout time holding both a positive and negative implication.  Depending on the culture, region and religion, this icon could be gifted as either a token of victory or hung as a sign of death.  In “Christmasy” terms, the shape being a circle is typically tied with unity, everlasting love and “infinity” depictions, almost always recognized as a pleasant connotation.  As you might see today different styles woven out of berries, twigs or branches, the wreath is traditionally made with pine bows because past civilizations sought after its unchanging green hue.  If you’re Catholic, you might be interested in knowing that the wreath became associated with Christmas after the resurrection of Christ as it became used as a sign of eternal life.  

Tags: Symbols of Christmas, Christmas Wreaths, Christmas Trees, Christmas, Christianity

The Symbolism Behind the Holly Plant

Posted by Suzie Canale on Mon, Dec 05, 2016

The Holly Tree


Mild day in winter, week before Christmas

Turns out the tree in your front yard has been

A holly tree all along, finally showing true colors

As a taxi driver leaves the driveway and

A neighbor in a red shirt crosses the concrete

Sidewalk. The succulents to my side reach like alien

Synapses, your white car looks at me cross-

eyed, cinnabar brick damp with Peninsula fog.


By Kelly O'Connor

Holly_symbolism.jpg

photo credit via howtogrowstuff.com

The Holly Tree is one of the most popular symbols of the Yuletide spirit and is on the list of the top ten requested items for seasonal décor.  The primary reason behind this is the plants stunning appearance that exudes shockingly strong colors of green and red.  Its bright and shiny foliage is complimented beautifully by crimson red berries that dangle from the wood of the stem making this a Christmas lovers treasure when utilizing holly in centerpieces, wreaths and garland.  Often, you can find this variety planted as a bush outside residential homes where it remains true to its color year round (yes, even in New England).  Due to this desirable trait, many florists and decorators adore this hardy species because of other flowers difficulty surviving the harsher winter weather where they fall victim typically to ice and frost.  If it’s not used in landscaping, you’ll see cut branches often folded into festive arrangements, particularly when accompanied with red roses, pine and other traditional December greenery.  One thing that you want to keep in mind if you’re planning on bringing holly into your house are its prickly leaves that are sharp enough to cause wounding if one gets too close.  Perhaps this singular flaw is the reason behind its symbolic reference when not paired with the cheer and joy of Christmas.  


Holly’s hard, pointed edges are historically referenced with the idea of “combativeness” and “pain”.  The beguiling attractiveness of the plant also explains the theme of “trickery” found in religious transcripts not unlike the forbidden fruit in Adam and Eve.  The appeal of the round jewel toned orbs and the glitz of the leaves exudes the well-known lesson, “Not everything that is beautiful is necessarily a good thing.”  “Aggression” and “defensiveness” are two more synonyms associated with holly, particularly in Roman times when the redness of the berries were a sign of war and bloodshed to come.  Several battles are on record to have occurred just because a soldier spotted the tree in full bloom, triggering him to be on guard no matter who was the next to approach him.  Like many other plants possessing the red appearance of a bloom or fruit, holly is also tied to the devil meaning that he is close by and watching you.  

Tags: Language of Flowers, Symbols of Christmas, Flower Meanings, Holly

Christmas Gifts from the Heart, Not from Your Wallet

Posted by Suzie Canale on Sun, Dec 04, 2016

December is a great time to spend with friends and family but sometimes we forget what the holiday is all about.  Frequently, our concerns are focused on checking off our list of presents we feel we have to buy, complaining about the long lines in the department stores.  I’m not saying that our purchases during the season aren’t gifted with good intent, I’m just stating that much of what we buy to wrap up and put underneath the tree is unnecessary. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars later we are merely left with that feeling of “thank god that’s over” while we sweat over next month’s credit card statements.  

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It’s just not what Christmas is supposed be about so why not make real presents with our hearts instead of our wallets this season?  Not only will they be appreciated more, they won’t leave you fumbling to make January’s mortgage payment.  If you have little ones, you might really want to take this suggestion seriously.  One day they’ll be making holiday preparations for their own families.  Teaching them that Christmas isn’t about how much you spend early on is a life-long lesson that someday they’ll appreciate.  You don’t have to be overly crafty or talented to make beautiful presents either.

Tags: Symbols of Christmas, Christmas, Holidays, Gifts

Mistletoe - Facts and Fiction

Posted by Suzie Canale on Thu, Dec 11, 2014

mistletoe-kiss-by-norman-rockwell 

Mistletoe is a tradition of Christmas where we hang bundles over the hearth, in doorways and in the arches of our hallways.  We recognize the symbol as a signal to kiss whomever is standing beneath it, but history says there is another origination all together.  Mistletoe was first used by the North American Indians, the Norse and the Druids for several different purposes, although it mainly held a protecting significance from evils such as goblins and demons.  The branches had to be cut with a golden sickle and could never touch the ground or the leaves would loose their powers.  If you ever wondered why it is commonly hung on front doors, the Druids began the custom where they believed that a gathering of mistletoe would ward of bad weather and unwholesome spirits.  Later, the plant became manifested more towards a romantic practice where anyone who stood beneath, was met by affection by the opposite sex.  It was said that if the woman refused the advance, than she would not be married for an entire year.  Another interpretation of the use of mistletoe was used as a sign of peace (which still holds today) where apposing soldiers would have to lay down their weaponry if they met under growing mistletoe in the forest. 

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How to Spot Mistletoe

Mistletoe is part of the parasitic family, which means that it needs the help of another living thing to survive.  In this case, the plant is usually seen growing on oak trees where its roots embed themselves within the bark.  Mistletoe feeds off the food that the tree provides and then grows accordingly across the branches.  The leaves can be easily identified in the wintertime because they stay green when other fauna has changed to a brown or grey tint.  The berries can be either red or white and are always toxic to the taste that may cause diarrhea or even death. 

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How To Hang

Make sure that your mistletoe has been freshly cut because it does not live for long periods of time without its host.  Tie the ends upside down and secure a ribbon around the clinched ends (preferably red).  Tack a nail or pin in your doorway and hang the bundle 1 foot down as to be sure not to interfere with passerby’s who walk underneath the threshold.  Enjoy the beautiful decoration for the season and if preserving is desired, store in a dry, unlit area where it can be saved for a later date.    

 

florist_costume Suzie Canale, Westwood  Public Library, October, 2014

Suzie can be found under the mistletoe with her husband at their home in Westwood.

Tags: Symbols of Christmas, Holiday Decor, Christmas, #EXFL

Different Types of Christmas Trees

Posted by Suzie Canale on Sun, Nov 30, 2014

It's that time of year where we just can't wait to get the boxes of ornaments and tinsel down from the attic eaves and decorate the star of Christmas-our tree!  Many might believe that selecting any old variety will do and that there really isn’t much of a difference with the acceptation of cost but I can assure you that this is simply not true.  Trees come in a large selection of breeds and with a versatile array of characteristics including size, smell, shape and branch dispersion.  So if you want to be an educated arbor buyer this season, learn more about the choices you have and pick a tree that is perfect for you and your family.  Keep in mind that not all trees are grown in the New England region, so it is important to know as much as you can beforehand. 

Christmas Trees in Boston 

Balsam Fir

The balsam fir is not only a New England tradition, but the best selling Christmas Tree at Exotic Flowers in Boston. Most Balsam firs sold in the Boston area come from Nova Scotia. The balsam fir has strong branches and beautiful scent. This fragrant Christmas tree evokes all types of wonderful Christmas memories.

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                                                   photo credit: blog.honestabe.com

Douglas Fir

The Douglas Fir is one of the more higher in demand Christmas trees on lots because of its desirable pyramid shape and full body display.  The coloring of the tree is blue and green with a grey trunk that adapts as it ages, a feature that I believe exacerbates the beauty of holiday lights and brightly decorated ornaments.  An interesting fact about the Douglas Fir is that it remains the most frequently requested tree variety for shipment to exotic places such as Guam, Maui and countries within Asia.  This tree also holds the characteristic of longevity so if you are the type who loves to put up their Christmas decorations right after Thanksgiving and keep it up for weeks past; this is the right tree for you! 

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Fraser Fir

This species is native to New England and enjoys being grown in colder climates, which makes this tree a solid choice for the frigid temperatures of Boston.   Since the Douglas Fir is commonly grows in nearby and comparative regions, it is usually well priced and affordable for our Christmas budgets since there is a natural abundance of them.  Other desirable traits include a strong pine perfume and needles that change from green to white as the needles grow from top to bottom.  Another alluring factor is that the trees are sometimes cut at shorter heights making them perfect for smaller rooms or apartments.  The Fraser Fir makes my top three list because it was my first Christmas tree, in my first apartment, on my first Christmas-a holiday that I fondly remember.  The fraser fir is always the hoice at the White House.

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                                                            photo cedit:shorpy.com

Noble Fir

I love this breed and can attest that it is aptly named since its appearance is completely reflective in the description, “noble”.  Native to the woods and mountains of Oregon and California, you will want to make sure that the trunk is freshly cut since this variety has been trucked from the other side of the country for our special holiday season.  Consisting of pretty blue and green needles, the Noble Fir is idyllic for hanging ornaments since the branches curl up with an upward congruent to a cupped hand. The branches are often adequately separated to showcase several baubles and the tree usually has a body that is filled robustly with aromatic pine needles providing a lovely yuletide fragrance for your home. The Noble Fir is my husband's favorite tree.

florist_costumeSuzie Canale, Westwood Public Library, October 2014.

Suzie puts her Christmas tree up every year on December 11th, her son Lance's birthday.

Tags: Symbols of Christmas, Holiday Decor, Christmas Trees, Christmas

Celebrating Christmas with Evergreen Boughs, Garland and Wreaths

Posted by Rick Canale on Wed, Dec 08, 2010

Boston Christmas GardenFor centuries, Christmas has been celebrated with many symbols, especially the presence of evergreens. Evergreen boughs and garland were present in many cultures and celebrations. Jewish history shows the use of evergreen boughs in during their Feast of Tabernacles. While the Germans used evergreen boughs in their homes during winter to bring life indoors. The Romans celebrated their winter solstice with boughs, garlands and flowers. These celebrants were the beginnings of the floral industry. Our florist ancestors showed the importance of floral decor as a part of winter celebrations.

Christmas wreaths aand garland trace their symbolism to early Christianity. As Christians began celebrating the birth of Christ, the pagan traditions of winter were carried over and somewhat modified and new meanings were created. The boughs and garlands served as a symbol to remind Christians of the salvation and redemption of Jesus.

Christmas Wreaths in Boston

The presence of the holiday wreath resonates with religious symbol of a ring. Wreaths represent God's eternal nature; no beginning, no end. Many believe the origin of the Christmas wreath comes from Jesus' crown of thorns. The adornment and decoration of a Christmas wreath emanate from the celebration of Christ's birth as well as a crown for a King.

Wagon full of White Pine Roping

Tags: Symbols of Christmas, Christmas Wreaths, Holiday Roping

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