Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GREEN SPACES - Dec­o­ra­tions have been in­te­gral to Yule­tide for cen­turies, bring­ing their own character and colour to fes­tive cel­e­bra­tions from Sat­ur­na­lia to cel­e­brat­ing the birth of Je­sus, writes Ben Van­heems of the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife


MANY of the cus­toms that we now take for granted have pa­gan un­der­tones. Holly and ivy, plants that hold onto their leaves and have berries, were revered as mag­i­cal ‘life sym­bols’.

The Ro­mans brought th­ese ev­er­greens into homes at the win­ter sol­stice as part of the feast of Sat­ur­na­lia, and to en­cour­age the re­turn of the sun and its life-giv­ing warmth.

Then, as Chris­tian­ity be­came es­tab­lished, th­ese cus­toms were ab­sorbed into Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions cun­ning ploy to pig­gy­back on pa­gan tra­di­tions and claim them for the new Christian fes­ti­val.

Mistle­toe most in­trigu­ing of our fes­tive green­ery. This common semi­par­a­site of wil­low, po­plar and ap­ple trees has no roots, re­ly­ing in­stead on its host plant for nu­tri­ents.

Its fleshy, antler-like leaves and creamy-white berries (only on the fe­male plants) were ven­er­ated by the Druids who saw it as a pow­er­ful sym­bol of fer­til­ity, of­fer­ing peace, luck and pro­tec­tion against dis­ease.

The word mistle­toe comes from two An­glo Saxon words: ‘mis­tel’ or dung and ‘tan’ or stick, which ac­cu­rately de­scribes one of the ways in which mistle­toe is planted into a tree. Birds that have eaten mistle­toe berries then pass out the seeds in their drop­pings onto twigs and branches where they grow.

Many Christ­mas cards fea­ture the cheer­ful robin, which is prob­a­bly the only bird sign­ing loudly in your gar­den this month.

This popular bird found its way onto Vic­to­rian Christ­mas cards when it was known sim­ply as the red­breast. At that time, post­men were nick­named ‘robin red­breast’ be­cause of their red tu­nics. Card il­lus­tra­tors then de­picted the posties as robin red­breast birds, and the bird’s name grad­u­ally changed to robin.

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust has cre­ated a spe­cial wildlife ver­sion of the Twelve Days of Christ­mas, fea­tur­ing plants, in­sects and an­i­mals and the na­ture re­serves where you’ll see them.

Visit to go wild this Christ­mas and New Year.

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