When Christmas bells are ringing
'Holly there was none, but the picture frames and sideboards were gaily and gracefully adorned with lovely native shrubs, and a wreathy crown or garland suspended from the drawing room ceiling; whilst plentiful bouquets of garden flowers made the house bright and fragrant.. So that, although not the real proper, genuine, original Christmas to me, it was a very bright and pleasant parody upon it.' (Louise Ann Meredith - My home in Tasmainia, 1852).
Floral decoration was a significant component of Christmas celebrations in the emerging colony of New South Wales from about the 1830s. In letters home the flourishing settlers wrote of large dinners, with a wealth of fresh produce: wild game, mutton and fresh fruits, all abundant in an Australian summer. They also described the decorations that adorned their houses, and in this we see the translation of age-old European customs to the new land where Australian native plants like Christmas bush and Christmas bells were used in place of the iconic ’red and green’ of European holly and ivy.
With the main activity being a full Christmas dinner, the table was usually the focus for Christmas decoration. Typical decoration included vases or glasses of flowers, with greenery and flowers pinned to the cloth sides. This could be a simple sprig or long, elaborate festoons. Christmas bush and Christmas bells were a favourite for the table. The centrepiece of the table in well-to-do houses was the epergne, a combined vase and candelabra. Arrangements were often so large that they obscured the view across and along the table.
Other traditions in colonial New South Wales were to fill the fireplace with potted plants or great bunches of Christmas bush. Suspended arrangements, often using passionfruit vines, were also relatively common. A ’kissing bough’ replacing the older mistletoe sprigs hung from doors, could be used in an entranceway.Seven students from Pearsons School of Floristry interpreted this early Christmas tradition using a mix of fresh and dried flowers, primarily in reds and greens, which included scarlet geraniums, lilli pilli, hydrangeas, lasiandras, roses, delphiniums, begonias, Christmas bush and Christmas bells and other native plants.