“Heigh ho! sing heigh ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.”
- William Shakespeare, As You Like It
Decorating one’s house with natural boughs has been a Christmas tradition since Celtic times. Boughs of holly with their bright red berries were especially coveted. (Read Mythology and the Folklore of Holly.) One understands how easily people in rural areas could obtain these bright green leaves, but what about those who lived in London? This image of a holly cart pulled by a donkey provides a solution.
Note that the customer purchases a small amount of boughs. Christmas decorations in the 19th century were modest to none compared to ours. In this 18th-century print of a coffee house or chocolate shop, one can see small leaves of holly placed in each window pane and a bough hanging from the center of the ceiling. (One cannot imagine that mistletoe would be hung in a public setting.)
In this image of a lavish family dinner by Cruikshank, not a single bough of holly decorates the room. Most likely a wreath had been hung on the front door or some boughs had been hung from the ceiling. With holly hard to obtain in metropolitan areas, one imagines that the spare use of decorations was as much from necessity as from tradition.
This image by Cruikshank of a family celebrating Christmas during early Victorian times shows a few boughs inserted into the chandelier, a roaring fire, and the Christmas pudding about to be served to the hostess. This year, I have taken the Regency approach to decorating my house, emphasizing the season with just a few well placed decorations. And I love it.
Other Christmas Posts on this blog: