holly

   Without doubt the most popular plant for Christmas decorations, the holly has several associated traditions, most of which are positive. It is sometimes stated, however, that it is unlucky to bring holly into the house at times other than Christmas, and Vickery reports some households which will not allow the plant indoors at any time. Nevertheless, in Worcestershire and Herefordshire, a small piece of holly which had adorned a church at Christmas time was regarded as very lucky to hang up in your house, even though the domestic decorations had to be burnt as usual (N&Q 5s:11 (1879), 206). The two types - prickly and smooth - have been the focus for a minor domestic battle of the sexes - if the prickly holly was brought in first, the man would rule, but if smooth holly preceded it, the wife would be master (N&Q 11s:6 (1912), 486, also 11s:4 (1911), 526).
   Holly trees were believed to be generally protective against witches and other evils, and were thus planted near churches and houses, as noticed by John Aubrey (1686: 189). In particular they were a good place to shelter in a storm because they were never struck by lightning. It is still considered unlucky by many to cut down a holly bush or tree, a belief which dates back at least to the 15th century. A good crop of berries on the holly is still said to betoken a hard winter on the way. Because of its connection with Christmas, 'green holly' has long been the emblem of mirth and jollity for poets and playwrights (see N&Q 12s:5 (1919), 319; 12s:6 (1920), 21-2, 52 for examples). A practical use for holly, so far recorded only in the 19th and 20th centuries, is for curing chilblains by thrashing them with the spiked leaves or, in some cases, rubbing them with powdered holly berries or their ashes. Holly could also be used in love divination.
   ■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 199-201; Vickery, 1995: 179-82; Henderson, 1879: 99-100.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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