One of my favorite parts about the Christmas season is getting to bring a tree in to my living room. I love the smell of an evergreen tree, and having one right next to my couch can't really be beat. I am certainly not alone in my love for greenery. In fact, ancient cultures also used greenery to symbolize good luck and ward off evil-spirits during the darkest days of the year.
The Romans decorated with greenery for the New Year and also gave each other gifts known as strenae, sprigs and green branches gathered from the sacred groves of the woodland goddess of strength and endurance, Strenia. These evergreens were symbols of good luck for the year ahead. Sweet honeyed dates, figs, or small pieces of jewelry sometimes accompanied the strenae. Children were given small gifts, such as clay figurines or bags of nuts that could also be used as game tokens. To this day, gifts during the Christmas season are known as strenna in Italy and New Year's gifts are etrenne in France.
In preparation for the Twelve Days, prickly holly was placed around windows and doors - like evergreen barbed wire - to keep the roaming evil spirits, witches, goblins and trolls from entering the home and to protect the good fairies. Every sprig of evergreen had to be removed by the Twelfth Say or else bad luck would fall upon the home. The admonition to take down evergreens at the end of the Twelve Days was also applied to Christmas trees after they were incorporated into our Christmas customs.
Mistletoe, the only exception to this rule, could be left up until the start of the next Twelve Days since it was thought to protect the home from lightening and fire. Our ancestors held mistletoe in awe because it remained green all year and bore its white berry fruit in winter when the trees on which it grew seemed lifeless. In the days of the Celtic Druids, this magical plant was gathered on special days in accordance with the cycles of the moon and was at its peak of power after the winter solstice.