Ivy, Laurel and Rosemary
Ivy has been a symbol of eternal life in the pagan world and then came to represent new promise and eternal life in the Christian world. Ivy is more of an English Christmas green than an American one. It is considered a feeble clinging plant, rather feminine in nature, not at all like the masculine sturdy holly leaf. It was the ancient symbol of Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry.
Among the Romans who remained pagan, the laurel leaf was sacred to the sun god Apollo. In the Christian sect it came to symbolize the triumph of Humanity as represented by the Son Man. Bay is also a name used for laurel. As the bay tree, the true laurel of the Ancients, is scarce in England. Substitutions such the common cherry laurel, the Portugal laurel, the Aucuba and others are often used. A British Christmas carol about the three kings leans heavily on the word “laurel”.
“We come walking with our staves, wreathed with laurel: We seek the King Jesus, Him that saves, To Bring Him laurel…”
Rosemary is yet another Christmas green. Though now it is used to mainly season foods, during the Middle Ages it was spread on the floor at Christmas. As people walked on it, the fragrant smell arose filling the house. The story associated with the shrub is that Mary laid the garments of the Christ Child on its branches and caused it to have such a wonderful aroma. It is also said that rosemary is extremely offensive to evil spirits, thus, being well suited to the advent of their Conqueror. The name rosemary is given, too, an association to the Virgin Mary’s name, making it all the more fitting for the Christmas season.