The History of Holiday Decor November 07 2013

Tis the season!  With the holidays upon us, we start to pull out of storage our Fall and Winter decorations.  Five of the most common items that people display during this time of the year are cornucopias for Thanksgiving, menorahs for Chanukkah and trees, wreaths and poinsettias for Christmas.  Below is a short history of each item.  We at Petals love the holidays and wish you and yours much happiness, good health and prosperity.  


Cornucopia is the most common symbol of a harvest festival. A Horn shaped container, it is filled with an abundance of the Earth's harvest. It is also known as the 'horn of plenty'. The traditional cornucopia was a curved goat's horn filled to brim with fruits and grains. According to Greek legend, Amalthea (a goat) broke one of her horns and offered it to Greek God Zeus as a sign of reverence. As a sign of gratitude, Zeus later set the goat's image in the sky also known as constellation Capricorn. [1] Today cornucopias are commonly filled with fall toned flowers and used as Thanksgiving table centerpieces.


Chanukkah Menorahs and Dreidels

According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle.  In celebration of the miracle of the oil, today's modern Chanukkah involves lighting a candle to commemorate each of the eight nights that the oil burned.  

Another tradition of the holiday is playing dreidel, a gambling game played with a square top. Most people play for matchsticks, pennies, M&Ms or chocolate coins. The traditional explanation of this game is that during the time of Antiochus' oppression, those who wanted to study Torah (an illegal activity) would conceal their activity by playing gambling games with a top (a common and legal activity) whenever an official or inspector was within sight.

A dreidel is marked with four Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimel, Hei and Shin. These letters stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Hayah Sham", a great miracle happened there, referring to the miracle of the oil. [2]

Christmas Tree

A Christmas tree is a decorated tree, usually an evergreen conifer such as spruce, or pine or fir, traditionally associated with the celebration of Christmas. An artificial Christmas tree is an object made to resemble such a tree, usually made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

The tree was traditionally decorated with edibles such as apples, nuts or dates. In the 18th century, it began to be illuminated by candles.  According to the History Channel, Protestant Christian reformer Martin Luther is credited with first adding lighted candles to a tree.  Later  with the invention of electrification the candles were replaced by Christmas lights. Today, there are a wide variety of traditional ornaments, such as garland, tinsel, and candy canes used to decorate ones tree. An angel or star may be placed at the top of the tree, to represent the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity.

The custom of the Christmas tree as we know it developed in early modern Germany with predecessors that can be traced to the 16th and possibly the 15th century when it was thought that devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.   It acquired popularity beyond Germany during the second half of the 19th century. The Christmas tree has also been known as the "Yule-tree", especially in discussions of its folkloristic origins. [2]

As for the overall religious symbolism adopted for the Christmas tree, evergreens were thought to represent the ever-burning fire of life. The color green signified the life force through the year. Eventually decorative balls represented the planets, while the star that radiates from the top reminds us of Bethlehem. The entire tree and decorations teach us that the universe is witness to the Incarnation. Red at Christmas reminds us of the fire of the Spirit. [3]        

Christmas Wreath

 Wreaths have been used as a decorative sign of Christmas for hundreds and hundreds of years. Christmas wreaths can adorn any part of your home, inside or out. In many homes, this symbol of growth and everlasting life can be found both inside and out. It is common to find a number of wreaths on doors, over the mantle, or hung in windows.

The wreath is made of evergreens, most often pine branches or holly. They can be real or artificial.  It is decorated with a variety of items including pine cones, holly berries, fruits, and just about anything you can imagine.

The wreath has significant meaning for the season. It's circular shape represents eternity, for it has no beginning and no end. From a christian religious perspective, it represents an unending circle of life. The evergreen, most frequently used in making wreathes, symbolizes growth and everlasting life. Holly branches have thorns. When used in a wreath it represents the thorn on Jesus' crown when he was crucified. Bright red holly berries symbolize Jesus' blood that was shed for us. [4]



Also known as the Christmas Star and Christmas Flower, it’s said that this winter flower’s association with Christmas comes from a Mexican legend. The story goes that a child, with no means for a grander gift, gathered humble weeds from the side of the road to place at the church alter on Christmas Eve. As the congregation witnessed a Christmas miracle, the weeds turned into brilliant red and green flowers.  In today's language of flowers, red, white or pink poinsettias, the December birth flower, symbolize good cheer and success and are said to bring wishes of mirth and celebration. 


[1] - cornucopia

[2]-www.Judaism 101: Chanukkah
[3]-Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[4]- Meaning Of A Christmas Tree -By William V. Rauscher
[5] - - Christmas Wreaths