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Holly was originally used in pre-Christian times to help celebrate the Winter Solstice Festival and ward off evil spirits and to celebrate new growth.
When Christianity came into Western Europe, Holly took on a Christian meaning, with the prickly leaves representing the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. The berries signified the drops of blood that were shed by Jesus because of the thorns.
Before holly was hung in houses, it was considered to be a sacred plant by the Druids. While other plants wilted in winter weather, holly remained green and strong, its berries a brightly coloured red in the harshest of conditions.
The Druids regarded holly as a symbol of fertility and eternal life, thought to have magical powers. In Druid lore, cutting down a holly tree would bring bad luck. In contrast, hanging the plant in homes was believed to bring good luck and protection.
Holly was also thought to protect homes against lightning strikes. Romans associated Holly with Saturn, the god of agriculture and harvest, and decked the halls with its boughs during the festival of Saturnalia.