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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!


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.



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

Palm Sunday - History, Symbolism and Accent Decor

Posted by Suzie Canale on Fri, Mar 20, 2015

The spring is arriving and so aren’t the special holidays that makes this upcoming season a wonderful time of year.  Occurring the Sunday before Easter is the Christian observance of Palm Sunday, a celebration that marks Jesus arrival into Jerusalem.   For those who will celebrate on March 20th, many will attend masses and receive the traditional icon of the moveable feast, which stands for the people of Jerusalem lying down palms as a pathway for Jesus into the city.  For some regions that do not harbor the appropriate climate to harvest this fanlike greenery, substitutions of yee, willow or even box flower are used in its place.  For this reason, Palm Sunday can be referred to universally as “Branch Sunday”.  Bostonians who will be partaking in this festivity will most likely be handed real palms that local city florists have imported from countries around the world.  Churches generally give out the symbol in either single stems or in formations designed to mirror the cross. Although they are an intricate part of the ritual, the tropical branches can also be utilized to make their holiday centerpieces.  Here are a few ideas for a fabulous floral arrangement for your Palm Sunday festivities.


                from  "Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti: entering the city on a donkey symbolizes arrival in peace rather than as a war-waging king arriving on a horse"

If you have been lucky to receive the customary branch of palms from your religious establishment, you would be wise to use them as décor for your holiday table setting.  The beauty of this technique lies in the greens stunning simplicity and architectural appeal.  A plain glass cylinder or square that reaches a height taller than twelve inches is ideal for displaying two or three palms or even a single sprig for a feng shui effect.  Not only is this presentation clean but visually attractive and wont interfere with the attractiveness of your dishes served on the table.  Another incentive to getting creative with your palms is that they have a remarkable longevity.  If the branches are fresh, they will be perfectly fine to showcase a week later for Easter! 


                       The Palm Leaf by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), portrait of an unidentified                                 woman in ancient dress -

If you’re interested in swapping the customary palm for another type of look, you have several options in front of you.  New England trees and shrubs such as forsythia, pussy willow and even cherry branches make lovely substitutions and can be placed in a container alone or mix and matched together.  If you are pruning from your yard, be sure to cut the stem at an angle and then place in warm water, which will allow the flower to drink quickly and easily.  If you want to beef up your vases, take advantage of the life popping up from the (hopefully) thawed ground such as daffodils, hyacinth and tulips.  For small nosegays and low arrangements, be on the search for crocus, grape hyacinth and lily of the valley.  Not only are the blossoms bold in color but also are also complimentary with one another as well as aromatic for your home. 

Suzie Canale

Westwood, MA 

Tags: Flowers as Symbols, Easter Traditions, Christianity, Religion, Palm Sunday

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