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Christmas Cards

Christmas is a time of peace and goodwill, the celebration of the birth of Christ which happened to coincide with some pretty jolly pagan celebrations. You can decide if the Christian or pagan spirit shines through in the modern Christmas.
 
Wills, Trees L40 [1939] Holly.
Wills,
Trees
[1939]

 

Mistletoe was one of the most important plants for Druids in Britain.

Christmas Today

Some people believe Christmas should last all year. It nearly does, and in some businesses it does exactly that. For the likes of you and I it probably only takes up 4 months of the year planning and paying for the event.

From a commercial viewpoint it becomes more and more important and a special effort is made with a seasonal product launch or bumper magazine issue to amuse people. Being 'fun' is good business.

Christmas on this page will be all year round, a bit like Narnia it is winter all year around because of that bit of cold cold glass buried in my heart, supply your own evil cackle at this point.

More prosaically it solves a problem for me which is how to introduce cards relating to flowers, trees and the like.

My knowledge of things leafy is limited to 'that looks nice' and when they die 'that is a shame'.

Pagan Pleasures.

In pre-Christian times the gathering of vegetation including holly and mistletoe was a integral part of the midwinter festival. There was special significance to anything which retains an outward appearance of life when all around was dying.

They were used in all manner of magical rites to ensure the regeneration of plant life in the following season. Holly and mistletoe were particularly impressive because not only did they remain green they also bore fruit during the winter months making them extra special to our ancestors. Lambert & Butler, British Trees and Their Uses [1927] a series of 25 cards has a holly at card 14.

Please note other sources date this set at Aug.1937 but I have used the Murray's date as the one most people probably see. Remember though seeing is not always believing. As was probably the case after indulging in some of the ancient magical rites.

When Christianity was taking root it was keen to stamp out pagan nonsense, lets face it it is not all that keen on it nowadays really. However it became obvious this was not going to be all that successful so a campaign of embrace and conquer began in which a lot of pagan beliefs were adopted and adapted. Christmas and Father Christmas being examples. Now the church complains that the true meaning of Christmas is being forgotten. Ho-ho-ho

While on the subject of symbolism, everything had to have meaning in the natural world and those meanings usually had something to tell mankind. Holly reminded north European Christians of the love for God that filled the Madonna's heart at the birth of the Divine Child. The spikes and the blood red berries also reminding people of the crown of thorns Jesus would wear.

Mistletoe was one of the most important plants for Druids in Britain. Indeed it had a great many properties including rendering poison harmless, curing all manner of malady, demon removal, protection from witchcraft and improved fertility.

Not surprisingly it was also considered something of a bringer off good fortune. Unfortunately there was a downside to this, not all mistletoe was created equal. To start with it had to be harvested with a gold knife which obviously reduced the number of people able to collect it.

Also the most potent fruit was found growing on oak trees which is much rarer than mistletoe growing on apple or ash trees.

Christianity

Something this powerful would be rather tricky to ignore but equally the early Christian church could hardly afford to endorse the product. As a result mistletoe was banned from churches and remains frowned upon today in church. Before the Reformation an exception was made at York Minister where a large quantity of it was placed on the altar on Christmas Eve and remained there for the 12 days of Christmas. During this time a general pardon was in force throughout York.

Over the years mistletoe was readopted as a Christmas decoration and was therefore strongly associated with the Christian message.

Laurel wreaths were adopted by early Christians because of the association it had with victory and conquering it had developed in the Roman Empire. Badshah Tea Company illustrates the cherry laurel on card 22 of 25, Fruits of Trees and Shrubs [1965].

Christmas just is not Christmas without a tree. Queen Victoria is attributed with introducing the idea of a tree as being a central part of the decoration. It figures that a member of the Royal family would do so as they were unlikely to be cleaning up the mess afterwards.

Everyone at some point decides they want a real tree, the desire usually recedes after the first attempt. Suffice to say I had a real tree in the house one year. Well actually it was more like six months as I tried to work out how to get it out off the house without it shedding every needle straight into the carpet.

There are trees which are less likely to do this but the safer, and probably more ecologically sound, option is dragging the artificial tree from the loft.

Not the only fruit

The orange tree can sometimes be found included in paintings of the Virgin Mary. Symbolic of purity and perfection. It often found its way into the mouth of the pig or boar at the traditional banquet, which might appear slightly odd (an apple is sometimes used).

Players, Useful Plants and Fruits [1904]
Players,
Useful Plants and Fruits
[1904]

 

The Scandinavian countries would eat oranges during their Juul (Yuletide) celebration as a symbol of the ' golden bristled sun boar'. The festival marked the point at which the days begin to lengthen. The orange appears in the Players, Useful Plants and Fruits [1904]. A set which has some of the finest of detail and has to be considered one of the best series on this subject for artwork.

The cherry tree is symbolic of the sweetness of both Christ and His Mother's character. Card 7 of Lambert and Butler, British Trees and Their Uses [1927] has an example of a cherry tree complete with three cherries.

If ever there was a fruit which should be on the banned substance list for Christian's then it would be the apple. However, I have never heard of such a thing. Malum is Latin for both evil and apple. Just to prove even an apple can be a double-edged sword when depicted in the hands of Christ it symbolizes salvation but in Adam's, sin.

There is a traditional tale told of the first Christmas. A young peasant girl was in distress because she had no gift to give the newborn Jesus and no means by which to obtain one. An angel appeared before her and swept away the snow revealing a large white flower.

The name of it, the hellebore, also known as the Christmas rose. Another legend recounts how this flower first bloomed on that first Christmas. The plant has a third name, Christ's herb. It appears on the Gallaher, Plants of Commercial Value [1917] and [1923], as card number 95.

Wills, Wild Flowers (2nd series) 1937 was produced and on card 20 there is a flower called, Lady's bedstraw. The name derives from the idea that it was the mattress on which Jesus lay when it changed from silver to gold.

Staying with Wills and the 1939 series, Garden Flowers by Sudell at card 27 is the Madonna lily. The name is the give away in this instance. As a symbol of excellence and purity denoted by the white flowers and the golden anthers representing her soul and as such appears in a number of paintings.

Wills, Roses [1914]
Wills,
Roses
[1912]

Although we have talked of the Christmas rose it is not an actual rose. The early Christian faith rejected the rose because of association with the Romans but by the 5th and 6th centuries the rose was being worked back into the Christian faith. One legend tells of how the archangel Gabriel wove 150 roses together into three wreaths. Happy indeed then that Wills produced three sets of roses with 50 cards in each.

That is all well and good but Christmas is about eating until all you can do is sit in front of the television and drink. After a few days of that you discover all that remains in the house is a bowl of nuts which proved impossible to open. High on the list would be the almond which appears on the Gallaher, Woodland Trees Series [1912]. That and many others as it is a series of 100 cards issued in 1912. The set is considered a classic of its type.

 

Gallher, Woodland Trees, (Almond)
Gallaher,
Woodland Trees
[1912]

Related pages
Flowers
Send a Card
Classic Cards

 

 
Thursday, 20th December 2007