Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Deck the halls with boughs of holly and cedar and pine and bamboo vine!

 Trimmings for a Carolina Christmas

by John B. Green III

Since time out of mind, Europeans have been bringing evergreen foliage into their homes and sacred places at this time of year.  It served to give hope of renewed life during the bleakness of winter.

Eastern North Carolinians continued the tradition, especially after decorating for Christmas became popular in the mid-19th century.  A variety of native evergreen trees, shrubs, and vines were enlisted to give a festive air to homes, businesses, and churches.  You could gather your own greenery or buy it from farmers and other country dwellers who made extra money at Christmas time by harvesting wagon loads of  holly and cedar for sale in the towns and cities.

Morning New Bernian, 19 December 1922.

The Daily Journal (New Bern), 20 December 1905.

For garlands and arrangements natives such as American Holly, 

American Holly, Ilex opaca
Loblolly Pine,

Loblolly Pine, Pinus taeda
and the oddly named Bamboo Vine, could be used.

Bamboo Vine, Smilax laurifolia
Bamboo or Bamboo Vine was the local name for a species of Smilax.  How a native woody vine acquired the name of an Asian grass is lost to the ages, but it is still known by that name among older Carolinians.

For Christmas trees, the universal favorite was the native Red Cedar which came complete with bluish-white berries for ornaments.

Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana
And finally, that old trouble-maker, Mistletoe.  The European mistletoe revered by the ancients had a number of American counterparts.  In this area it was the Eastern Mistletoe with green leaves and glossy white berries that was used.  It served well as both decoration and romantic diversion.

Eastern Mistletoe, Phoradendron serotinum

All these native plants still grow in abundance in Eastern North Carolina, but they have mostly been replaced with non-native firs and various plastic replicas.  Perhaps it's time to revive a few of the old ways and deck the halls with holly and pine and bamboo vine!