This Christmas, there’s a revival of ancient traditions in decorating. Foremost is the use of natural elements. Lovingly blending natural materials into your home décor achieves a unique feel and sense of timelessness. Last week we looked at Christmastime favourite’s mistletoe, holly, evergreens and poinsettias. This week we discuss how lavender, rosemary, bayberry and the traditional Yule log could be featured in your holiday decorating.
Lavender: Not only a favourite scent for the bath and herb pillows, lavender is also one of the primary herbs in my materia medica — such a fragrant flower with such a powerhouse medicinal reputation. Roses and lavender make a beautiful and surprising addition to your holiday wreaths and garlands. The mere scent of lavender reminds me of my Great-grandmother’s lavender hot chocolate – a family favourite.
Rosemary: A decorative herb and spice ring made from fresh rosemary, sage, thyme and red and green chilli peppers give off a sweet, herby fragrance. Not only does it add zip to your kitchen décor, but it also makes an excellent gift for a foodie friend. Rosemary has a reputation as a memory enhancer, which might explain the old saying that if you smell rosemary on Christmas Eve, it will bring happiness in the New Year. I love the small rosemary trees decorated for the holiday season that you can find in most grocery stores or garden centres — a snip for the stuffing and a sniff for the memory.
Bayberry: Its waxy fruits attract birds, including Quail, Wren and Sparrow. The fruit is also the traditional source of bayberry candles. For maximum effect, cluster the olive green, strongly scented bayberry candles together, lighting a few at a time to create a fireplace atmosphere. Tradition has it that bayberry candles burned on Christmas or New Year’s Eve guarantee a lucky year ahead. But, as this poem (courtesy of classroom.com) points out, don’t extinguish the candle: “This bayberry candle comes from a friend/so on Christmas Eve burn it down to the end./For a bayberry candle burned to the socket,/will bring joy to the heart and gold to the pocket.”
Yule log: Symbol of light and warmth, the Yule log traces its origins back to pre-Christian winter solstice festivals. A tree would be cut down on the solstice (this year, December 22) and fed into the fireplace in one piece. The tree would burn throughout the night, then smoulder for 12 days before being ceremonially put out. The ashes of Yule logs were kept to be spread on plants in the spring to ensure fertility. While a proper Yule log isn’t found burning in many fireplaces these days, you can watch a video on YouTube or your local television station.
It’s easy to make a small Yule log more suitable for modern times. Find a fallen branch of oak or pine, cut it to size and flatten one side so it sits upright — drill three holes in the top side to hold red, green, and white candles. Decorate your log with evergreen boughs, holly, and mistletoe for an authentic Yule touch – these were displayed with reverence in bygone days to protect the home and its residents.