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Journaling: This little pagan and his twin hang on either side of the fireplace during the Christmas holiday. I believe his figure predates even the European Father Christmas’ and harks back to the time of the Romans and the time of the Druids. Holly was used by ancient people to treat a variety of ills...gout, urinary infections and kidney stones to name a few. Images of the Roman god Saturn show him wearing the holly, his sacred plant and Romans exchanged boughs of holly at Saturnalias.
Holly was also sacred to the Druids, the first society in known history to have worn sprigs of holly and mistletoe. Very likely, my little pagan represents the Holly King (rather than an old fashioned Santa). The Holly and the Oak were the twins “kings” of the Celtic sacred trees. Holly was the “Dark Twin” and ruled during the times of the waning light following the summer solstice while the oak ruled during the time the light began its ascent at the winter solstice. The Druid priests of yesteryear believed that holly, with its glossy, shiny prickly leaves of green adorned with red berries, remained green all year due to its magical properties. Many
speculate the holly berries have given us our green and red colors of Christmas.
As Christian replaced the old religions of the Romans and the Druids, and overlaid the old traditions and holidays with new, holly acquired a different symbolism. The red berries were said to represented the blood of Christ and the green, prickly leaves represented the crown of thorns. Early on it was used at doorways and windows to ward off persecution (a tradition that still recognized the magical powers of the plant). This practice was too closely related to the Druidic uses of the plant and was prohibited by an early Pope, who forbade any type of Christmas greenery as pagan.
Today as we know, we combine the old symbol of the holly with another old symbol - the wreath. The circle or ring shape of the wreath is symbolic of eternity or eternal life, because the shape has no beginning or end.
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