Holly

English Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

Holly © Angela Porter 19 Dec 2010

Etymology

The word holly comes from the Old English ‘holegn‘ which became the Middle English ‘holin‘, which Tolkien fans will recognise – Hollin was the name among men for the land of Elves that thrived to the west of the Mines of Moria, known as Eregion, and it was famous for its holly trees.

In Welsh holly is called celyn.  In Terry Pratchett’s ‘Soul Music’, Imp Y Celyn is the lead singer of The Band With Rocks In

Folk names for holly hulver bush, holm, hulm, holme chase, holy tree and Christ’s thorn.

Holly decorations

Holly is one of the most striking objects in the winter woodland with its glossy leaves and clusters of brilliant scarlet berries. It is very much connected with Christmas in many Western cultures. From very early days, it was gathered in great quantities for Yuletide decorations, both of the church and the home. The old Christmas Carols are full of references to holly.

Christmas decorations are said to derive from a Roman custom that involved sending gifts to their friends during the festival of Saturnalia which occurred in mid-December. Strenae, twigs of holly or laurel with sweets fastened to them, were a popular gift. Boughs of holly and other evergreens were also used as decorations. Evergreens are symbolic, of course, of enduring and renewed life as well as a way to encourage the return of vegetation at the end of Winter.

The Christians were quick to adopt holly for their own celebrations, with the holly representing the crown of thorns that Jesus wore, the berries symbolising drops of blood. A medieval legend asserts that the holly sprang up from the places where Christ walked, hence the name Christ’s Thorn.

Old church calendars have Christmas Eve marked ‘templa exornantur‘ (churches are decked), and the custom is as deeply rooted in modern times, whether you celebrate Christmas, Yule, the Unconquered Sun, or the return of the light, as it was in either pagan or early Christian days.

Childhood memories of ‘trimming up’.

As a small child, I can remember going to bed on Christmas Eve to an ordinary home.  Generally, we were in bed early –  6pm on a school night, 7pm any other night.  On Christmas Eve, my parents used to keep us up until gone 7pm just to try to get us all to sleep through the night – I am one of six children, the second oldest.  I’d be blamed for everything, including the indecently early hour of waking on Christmas morning.  We’d make our way downstairs, bags of gifts in hand, and we’d be amazed!  The stairwell was lit by twinkling fairy lights.  The front room was sparkly with shimmering tinsel, metallic versions of fancy paper-chains, and the lights, baubles, lametta and tinsel on the tree.

As a child this was magic!  It was, in many ways, the best part of the day.  We were always told that the the fairies that lived in the central heating did the work of decorating, but as we grew up, we took our places to help the ‘rents decorate, as well as taking part in the toast at 10pm to members of the family past and present.  Even when we were all young adults, the house was never decorated before Christmas Eve, and even when we all had moved away to our own homes we still returned on Christmas Eve to decorate for the ‘rents.  I still believe the rest of the family do so now.

Holly superstitions

It is said to be unlucky to cut a branch from a holly tree; it should be pulled off instead.

Old stories advise people to take holly into their homes to act as a shelter for elves and fairies who could join mortals at this time without causing them harm. However, it must be entirely removed before Imbolc Eve (31st January) as just one leaf left within the house would result in bad luck.

In Somerset, it was considered unlucky for holly to be brought into the house before Christmas Eve, and then only brought in by a man.

In Herefordshire and Worcestershire, a small piece of holly which had adorned a church at Christmas time was regarded as very lucky to hang up in your home, even though the domestic decorations had to be burned as usual.

Pliny tells us that if holly is planted near a house or a farm it would repel poison, deflect lighting and protect from witchcraft.

Pythagoras noted that the flowers would cause water to freeze and if the wood, if thrown at any animal, would cause the animal to return and lie down by the wood, even if the wood did not touch the animal.

A good crop of berries on holly is still said to be a sign that a hard winter is on the way.

Holly uses

Holly wood is heavy, hard and white-ish and it was used for the white chess pieces, ebony being used for the black.

In the 1800s, weaving looms had holly wood spinning rods; holly was less likely to snag the threads being woven as it is a very dense wood and can be sanded very smooth.

Peter Carl Faberge used holly cases for his famous Easter Eggs, as well as small objects such as hand seals.

Holly is also used for veneering.

  1. www.wikipedia.com
  2. www.botanical.com
  3. homepage.ntlworld.com/blackbirdhollins/articles/Holly%20tree.htm
  4. “English Folklore” J Simpson and S Roud

Labels, work, stress and knits.

Jam Jar Labels.

I got some labels done for a friend for their home made jams and chutneys.  They are chuffed with them, and I’m pleased that they like.  They liked my illustration for my Harvest Moon blog entry, and wanted their labels in a similar style.   The first one below is for the larger jars, the second for he smaller jars.  It took a while to get the first one ‘fit for purpose’, but I’m really pleased with it.  It gives visual hints as to where the produce was grown and collected for the preserves.  I also am pleased that my rather simplified style of art has found a ‘niche’.  The smaller label works just fine too, similar design, but the landscape faded out so the information about the contents can be typed over it.

A friend at work asked if I’d design some for a relative of hers as a Christmas present, as they are always making jams and preserves too.  So of course I’ll do that.

Work, stress and knitting.

Three weeks back at the chalkface (though no one uses chalk in the classroom anymore!) and the stresses of dealing with uncooperative, disrespectful teens and managing a workday that is like climbing on a treadmill that has been set by someone else who is calling the tune, and running to keep up with the changes in pace until eventually you are thrown off as your feet get in a tangle.  Well, that’s how it feels once more at the moment…despite the help I have once a week, I’m not yet able to break the cycle I’ve managed to get myself caught up in over a lifetime, and of course when things go wrong, or at least aren’t perfect, then I blame myself and beat myself up with it once again.  But it’s not as bad as it used to be, it just seems a long journey to get to where I’d like to be.  And one straw was added to the burden that’s built up since the return to work on Thursday that caused me to lose my temper briefly.  That led to me having a very upset digestive system for the rest of the day night, and a thumping headache that was with me most of Friday, Ibuprofen only just taking the edge off it.

This lead me to feeling I needed to find an activity in the evenings that relaxed me, didn’t require a lot of concentration and that I could just pick up and put down at will.  I love art, but when I start on an art project I can get consumed by it, stay up later than is wise for me as I totally lose track of the time.  I wanted something that wouldn’t need my eyes to work in sharp focus (note to self – opticians!). Something that didn’t need a lot of concentration.  Something that kept my hands and eyes busy but left my mind free to think or to follow a film.  And that reminded me of why I used to love to knit and crochet so much.  I was doing something, something creative, but something that let me be still and calm, to just ‘be’.  I knew I needed projects that could be either finished quickly or were made up of smaller individual pieces which could be finished quickly.  Projects where I could utilise my own creativity, perhaps even learn about free-form work, and maybe even combine all of this with other forms of art that I love to do to create mixed media works or jewellery.   I wanted things I could do while too tired, too stressed out to settle to anything else.  Something that would help me settle when like this, and perhaps small enough that I could carry it with me.

Well, in quite a synchronistic manner, one of those emails containing recommendations of books from Amazon appeared in my in-box, and on it were books of knitting and crochet.  I followed them, and added a large number of books to my large-ish Amazon wishlist, and I ordered two books that really caught my eye.

One was the ‘Prayer Shawl Companion’ by Janet Bristow, which caught my attention because of the contemplative, spiritual aspect of knitting, and gathering together with other like minded souls to create to gift to others in need, to send out thoughts for healing, love, peace and help to where it is most needed.

The other was ‘Mindful Knitting by Tara Jon Manning’ which appealed because it talks of the contemplative, meditative aspects of knitting.

Both of these books are on their way to me, and I hope that they are what I hope them to be.  I may post pictures of the projects here.  And it may be that like-minded people may gather together with me to create to help others.  I don’t know…yet.

I do know a friend at work has asked me to teach them to crochet.  So, after work on Thursday, I wandered through my local town to the only shop that now sells yarns, knitting needles and crochet hooks, to get some light coloured chunky wool, a large hook so she can see easily what to do, and can hold it more easily in her hands – she has rheumatoid arthritis, but she thinks this will help to exercise her hands and give her something creative to do.

Of course, I have been knitting squares of various stitch patterns and using coloured yarns, all of a similar size, just to keep me occupied while I await the arrival of the books.  And hopefully the books will also inspire me to be confident in creating my own things.  I’m particularly intrigued by ‘free-form’ crochet, as I am with ‘free-form’ beading.  But, we shall see what comes of this.

I do create textile jewellery from time to time – many examples can be seen at Artwyrd.deviantart.com, though I’ve not created any for a long while now, having a stock of them and nothing to do with them!  Finding the right market for them is a problem as they are so unique I suppose.  Maybe I can make use of my knitting/crochet skills to create different ways of wearing my beaded/wire/textile art … that’s something to think about at least!

I did have an interesting time trawling through eBay looking at the knitting yarns available and seeing some rather exquisite, and expensive, examples.  And with some of them my mind went to making small, heartfelt gifts not to wear but to keep.  Something to do for Yuletide/Christmas gifts p’raps.  Now that’s a thought.  And it’s more or less time for me to start thinking about creating my Yule cards.  For a good few years now I’ve made my own cards for that time of year, and it does take quite a bit of time to create them!