13. Decking the Halls with Greenery was a Sign of Life during the Dead of Winter.
Christmas decorations these days take the form of tinsel, baubles or a variety of other artificial formats. However, the original Christmas decorations consisted of winter greenery and once again postdated the birth of Christ “Crowning the doors’, a reference to the practice of hanging evergreen vegetation around entrances was another pre-Christian custom that St Gregory Nazianzen warned against and with good reason. For right across Europe, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean it was customary to ‘deck the halls’ with the boughs of any trees or plants with any semblance of life and color during midwinter. It was a custom that endured in northern Europe well into the early modern period and beyond.
In ancient Rome, December was the time when people decked temples with new foliage- particularly at the time of the month’s festivals. At Saturnalia and Brumalia, they wreathed their homes and public buildings with vines in honor of Bacchus as well as any other perennial greenery. For the ancient Egyptians, such greenery was not readily at hand. So they used palm leaves, a symbol of resurrection and rebirth as a midwinter decoration. The purpose of these evergreen decorations was to remind partygoers that even in the darkest months there was life- and to ward off evil.