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Overview

evergreens


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A high proportion of the plants important in folk customs are evergreen—a fact which can be seen either in practical or symbolic terms. Folklorists have usually highlighted the latter, suggesting that at winter festivals they represented the unconquered life-force, and at funerals immortality. This may be so, though early sources offer little direct evidence, and what there is does not always bear out the theory; holly, for instance, is celebrated in a well-known medieval carol because its features recall aspects of Christ's birth and life, while rosemary proverbially was ‘for remembrance’. The herbalist Willam Coles, in his The Art of Simpling (1656: 64–5), thought lasting memory was the key concept:Cypresse Garlands are of great account at Funeralls amongst the gentiler sort, but Rosemary and Bayes are used by the Commons both at Funeralls and Weddings. They are all plants which fade not a good while after they are gathered and used (as I conceive) to intimate unto us, that the remembrance of the present solemnity might not dye presently, but be kept in minde for many years.

Cypresse Garlands are of great account at Funeralls amongst the gentiler sort, but Rosemary and Bayes are used by the Commons both at Funeralls and Weddings. They are all plants which fade not a good while after they are gathered and used (as I conceive) to intimate unto us, that the remembrance of the present solemnity might not dye presently, but be kept in minde for many years.

However, availability must also have been an important factor; weddings and funerals occur at all seasons, so it was possible to make evergreens a standard feature of these occasions, but not always flowers.

See alsoBAY, BOX, HOLLY, IVY, MISTLETOE, ROSEMARY, YEW.


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