The Battle of Nantwich (1644) during the English Civil War led to the lifting of the siege of the town by Royalist forces. In celebration,

After the siege was lifted, in January 1644, the local people marked the event in subsequent years by wearing sprigs of holly in their hats or on their clothing.

This celebration was known as Holly Holy Day and the same source says that "the practice faded out after a time" (suggesting it went on for at least several years), but there is no explanation here as to why holly was worn. Googling has turned up nothing (though some promising links were dead).

The choice of holly, with it's association with Jesus and the crown of thorns seems a strange one given the Puritan attitude to idolatry (which pre-dates the Civil War). Already, by the end of 1644, Parliament was beginning a clamp down on Christmas and in 1645 the Directory of Worship railed against

‘Festival Days, vulgarly called Holy Days, having no warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued’

Further, the could the celebration really have continued in the years following the battle if holly was chosen for religious reasons? At Christmas in 1647, for example, a display of holly at a public water conduit led to a confrontation with soldiers of the Lord Mayor who had ordered the holly removed.

I am thinking that there was probably another reason for using holly in Nantwich. Among the possibilities might be:

  1. In heraldry, holly is used to represent truth.
  2. Holly can represent purity.
  3. Pre-Christian folklore relating to holly's protective qualities (seems the least likely).

Are any of the above the reason why the people of Nantwich wore holly to celebrate Parliament's victory? Or was there another reason (even a religious one)?

Note: Holly Holy Day in Nantwich was revived in 1972

  • 1
    Because it was January, and most frstve greenery was dead? – MCW Mar 16 '18 at 17:02

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