Traditions - General Info Section
Ivy - Christmas Plants - Symbolism - Origin
Ivy in the Celtic mythology
Ivy is one of the plants used in the celebrations of Christmas.
This highly invasive crawling and climbing plant belongs to the family Araliaceae, a species found in most continents.
Berries are toxic and foliage known for triggering skin allergies.
Many legends and myths are associated with the plant, which was widely used in the wreaths created for the celebrations of the Winter solstice.
It was indeed associated with the Celtic Goddess, who kept life going through the harsh months of winter and Holly was her God.
The prickly and rigid holly indeed symbolized men, while the gentle, elegant ivy represented women!
Celts always used these plants together because they saw them as the symbol of Resurrection and Eternity.
Ivy is often seen climbing on holly and these two plants end up completely intertwined.
Many believe therefore that the pagan wreaths also symbolized the battle of the genders.
Cornish legend of Tristan and Iseult
In Cornwall, ivy gave rise to a romantic and sad legend.
The beautiful Iseult and the knight Tristan were so much in love that Iseult died of grief when Tristan was killed.
However, the King was also in love with Iseult.
He became jealous of Tristans’ hold on the love of Iseult, even in death.
He therefore ordered for the young lovers’ graves to be placed far apart from each other.
However, an ivy plant started to grow on each grave.
The two plants eventually met and got intertwined in a love knot.
Wagner found inspiration in the legend of Tristan and Iseult’s everlasting love for the creation of his opera Tristan and Isolde.
Greek and Roman mythology
In Greek mythology the climber plant was associated with fidelity.
Newlyweds were therefore given a wreath by the priest to ensure an everlasting marriage because the plant was also associated with fertility and good luck.
The Romans were more bon viveur.
They therefore associated the plant with Bacchus, the God of Wine, who wore a crown of ivy in order to prevent intoxication!
The origin of Bacchus' crown goes back to Greek mythology as the plant is known as Kissos in Greek.
According to legend, Kissos died while playing with his father Bacchus.
Full of grief Bacchus tried, in vain, to revive his son.
Gaia the Mother Goddess took pity on Bacchus and changed his son into ivy.
Bacchus held the plant sacred and started to use it in his crown.
Christians adopted the tradition of using the climbing plant, which they symbolically associated with their deep attachment to God.