Christmas holly berries are the small red fruits that grow on the holly. The holly has become widely associated with Christmas for reasons that will be explained. The holly along with its berries provides an inexpensive and feasible method of decorating homes during Christmas. However, these seemingly mystical plants with its blood red berries have been applicable to human traditions for centuries.
The holly was thought to be associated with the Roman God Saturn. As a result it was used in the festival of Saturnalia as a tribute to the great mythical God. Paintings from this period often depict the God wearing the sacred plant flushed with its beautiful red berries.
According to Christian legend, the holly was used by a young shepherd boy as a gift for Christ. He wove the branches into a kind of crown for the Christ child, however, on further observation of his gift he felt ashamed of its impoverished nature and cried for this perceived failure. Miraculously baby Jesus touched the crown and it began to sparkle while the orphan's tears began changing the white berries into a beautiful vibrant red colour.
The German legend supports the idea that the holly was indeed the plant used to create Christ's thorny crown during the Crucifixion. This use of the plant is what led to the transformation of its berries from white to a blood coloured red. Thus the holly would always remain symbolic of the torture that Christ endured during his last few days on earth.
The Druids believed that the holly was a very special plant. In winter, unlike most other plants that were drying up, it remained green and beautiful during this frigid season. The berries of the holly were especially important to the Druids as it symbolized the menstrual blood of their Goddess Danu, the great mother of the Gods.
The holly berry is toxic when eaten by humans which have been attributed to the chemical icilin found in the berries. It induces vomiting and/or diarrhea once ingested and it is believed to be fatal when 20 or more of these berries are consumed. However, it is a nutritious source of sustenance for birds and other animals. It is therefore important that if the holly is being used to create a wreath that parents be cautious about where it is placed.