Published: 18-03-2010, 04:17


Seasonal decorations of GREENERY have embellished European Christmas celebrations for centuries. Rosemary was at one time a popular element in these decorations. Between the fourteenth and the mid-nineteenth centuries, rosemary reigned as a favorite item in English Christmas garlands. In the seventeenth century the English poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674) noted that, according to local custom, “Rosemary and baies [bays] that are most faire were stuck about the houses and the churches as Christmas decorations” (see also LAUREL).
Folk belief attributed a number of positive qualities to the plant, qualities that might be thought to justify its association with the season. Rosemary signified remembrance, as attested to by Ophelia in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. In addition, evil spirits fled in the presence of rosemary. Finally, its name echoed that of MARY, mother of JESUS, one of whose symbols was the rose. Should these explanations be found wanting, many legends developed to offer a Christian explanation of the herb’s connection with Christmas (see also NATIVITY LEGENDS). Rosemary’s popularity has since declined, however. Today we seldom twine this fragrant herb into our Christmas decorations.