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Christmas Flora and Fauna

Christmas is such an enchanting time of year and full of interesting traditions and customs. I would like to tell you about some of the wonderful symbolism that exists in British culture at Christmas time. Of course, this topic would be huge if I tried to cover everything so I'm just going to look at the glorious theme of flora and fauna.

Flora and Fauna - plants (flora) and animals (fauna) of a particular region, habitat or time.

Let's start with a very important one - the Christmas tree. Putting a Christmas tree in our homes at Christmas time is a tradition which dates back to the 16th century and is a custom for which we have Germany to thank. Typically an evergreen spruce, pine or fir, the tree takes pride of place in the house any time between the 1st day in advent and Christmas Eve. It is decorated with lights, baubles, tinsel, and often some chocolate or candy canes (US) too. Prior to electricity being invented, candles were used to adorn the tree - can you imagine the fire risk? Usually people put either an angel or star at the top of their tree representing the angel Gabriel or guiding north star at the nativity. In my house, we use a cute little handmade robin - that's just a personal tradition. Did you know that the famous Christmas tree in London's Trafalger Square is gifted to the UK by Norway each year? It's a tradition which goes back to 1947.

Putting mistletoe in our homes dates back to Celtic times when a rare variety of the plant was considered sacred. Now, owing to its associations with fertility, it is traditional to exchange kisses beneath it. In Victorian times, this was taken very seriously and any women refusing a kiss was expected to never marry. Some say that a berry should be removed from the sprig for every kiss exchanged beneath it.

Using holly to decorate homes in winter is another tradition which dates back to Celtic times. In Christian beliefs of the crucifixion, the sharp leaves represent the crown of thorns, and the red berries represent the blood of Christ. People often make door wreaths to welcome guest out of holly and other foliage. The wreath itself being circular represents eternal love and rebirth. Green represents eternal life and red berries add a touch of colour. In fact, red and green used together is commonly seen at Christmas. Holly, representing Jesus and masculine power, is often used alongside ivy, which represents Mary and feminine power. The famous Christmas carol "The Holly and the Ivy" describes this.

Robins are often associated with Christmas in the UK and whilst many think it's due to their presence throughout the winter, the use of robins as a symbol of Christmas is actually linked to the post office. During Victorian times, postmen were nicknamed robins because of their red-breasted uniform and so robins represented the postmen who delivered the Christmas cards. The classic image of a robin at Christmas depicts the bird in snowy conditions but did you know that statistically speaking, in the UK, we are more likely to experience snow at Easter than at Christmas?

Reindeer represent strength, endurance, and safe travels. This is most likely the reason why Father Christmas (Santa Claus in the US) chose them to transport him across the world each Christmas Eve to deliver presents to children. Of his team of 9, 8 reindeer, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, were named from the Clement Clarke Moore's famous 1823 Christmas Eve poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (more commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas"). Rudolph, with his bright red nose, joined the crew in the mid-20th century. Reindeer fact: Their noses are specially designed to warm the air before it gets to their lungs.


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