The Holly and the Ivy
Once again the Holidays have rushed to be upon us. It often seems that, once we hit the first day of December, the calendar somehow catapults us forward through the month of December and into Hanukkah, Christmas and then the New Year.
It’s a busy time, full of a combination of demands upon us, social times, and a tidal wave of various and sometimes conflicting emotions.
It’s a season that emphasizes joy. Consequently, people who are going through a range of very common difficult human experiences can find this season particularly hard.
For the recently divorced, separated or bereaved, the holidays, with their emphasis on family togetherness, can be a brutally difficult time. Living with the reality that a relationship that once promised love and acceptance is no longer there, and often, dealing with limited access to children at a time of the year that may have had particularly intense connections with children in the past can be a particularly difficult emotional experience.
For many people, even encounters with relatives at this time of year can also be ambivalent or difficult. It can be painful to realize that relationships with family members, that should be filled with closeness and trust are in fact much more tentative and superficial. Where in earlier times, connections with relatives may have been much closer and warmer, now geographical distance and time constraints keep us much more nearly at arm’s length.
Yet there is another character to this time of year, when the days grow short, and we long for the return of light and warmth. This is a season which possesses an archetypal character and which has held significance for people probably just about as long as there have been people and they have been noticing their environment. I think here of the words of an old carol of the season:
- The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,
- Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.
- Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,
- The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.
These are lines well known to many who come from the Christian tradition, as they come from a famous carol, “The Holly and the Ivy”. This carol actually has pre-Christian origins and may well date back over 1000 years. I believe that this carol points to some of the transpersonal meaning and significance of this season.
For many centuries, people have always taken the evergreen holly and ivy indoors during the winter in the hope that the occupants of the house would survive difficult conditions just like the hardy holly and the ivy. The colours of the Holly and Ivy, green and red are traditionally associated with the winter solstice.
From very ancient days, people have always met the solstice with courage and hope, and faith in the return of the sun. For us, too, these holidays call us to recognize that within ourselves which is evergreen, perpetually living and growing, even in those seasons and times when the warmth and light of life can seem very far away indeed. In Jungian terms, to find this evergreen part of ourselves is to find the permanent and indestructible core of our unique personhood, the Self. It is at that place within us that we touch the divine.
I’d be very interested in your comments about how you approach the Holiday season. Are there symbols in this season that bring you life joy and hope?
My very best wishes to each of you on your individual journey to wholeness, especially in this Holiday season,
© 2009 Brian Collinson