Christmas holly wreaths are now best known for their ornamental use during the Christmas Season. Being very lovely to look at it is no wonder they have become a traditional part of the season. Yet, the use of the holly pre-dates the current association with Christmas and Christianity. Many mythical stories have been used to describe the literal and figurative significance of the holly. It is important to note that the plant itself has been utilized for other reasons including for medicinal purposes in the form of a tea for serious conditions such as gout, urinary problems and kidney stones. This use has long become a thing of the past with the introduction of advanced, less noxious and more effective medicines. However, the most prominent use as a wreath can be traced back to different eras.
The original use of the holly as a decorative ornament can be traced to Northern Europe when Celtic peoples decorated their homes with the mystical plant during Yule or winter solstice. The look of the holly was also used as a symbol to represent various Goddesses, most notably Danu, mother of the Gods.
The ancient Romans dressed in ceremonial holly head adornments that were made in tribute to their God Saturn. They also believed that the holly had the power to ward off lightning and witches. It was often made into a bough that would be exchanged among friends during the Saturnalia festival.
While Christianity was not the first to use the holly for significance, it soon became most prominent in Christian belief systems. Much of what was known was a blend of both Celtic and Roman traditions. In general the wreath as it stands today was originally made by Christians to ward off demonic forces and persecution by anti-Christian forces. In general the blood red of the holly berries is used to symbolize Christ's Crucifixion and the holly wreath a symbol of the thorny crown he wore while being crucified. It is not truly known if the Holly was actually used to create the crown that Christ wore, some schools of thought believed this is so, while others believe as suggested before that the holly is merely symbolic of Christ's trials through crucifixion. There are some theories that go further stating that Christ was crucified on a holly tree. Regardless of the view taken the Holly has since been a very important symbol in Christianity.
The symbolic place of the holly wreath has been reduced drastically by both Christians and non-Christians alike. While the legends make for wonderful story telling the use of the wreath is more practical than symbolic. The plant grows extensively during the winter months and is visibly even more attractive because of its berries; subsequently it is no wonder that it is still hung on doors to this day as an ornament in celebration of the joyous season.