Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a bush or tree with dark green leaves with sharp points and small bright red berries

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun holly comes from the Old English ‘holegn’ or ‘holen’. It was first used in English in the 12th century.


Holly with its shiny green leaves and red berries is ubiquitous at Christmas. Although there are many different varieties, some with variegated foliage, the most popular for use in decorations is the native holly, Ilex aquifolium. It is prized not only for its glossy foliage, which is edged with prickles when the plant is young, but above all for the bright red berries that grow on the female plants. Holly branches have been used to decorate homes in winter for a very long time and in the past the tree was thought to aid fertility and protect against devils and witchcraft. Holly features in some Christmas carols, notably ‘The holly and the ivy’. In this carol, which dates back to the early 19th century, the qualities of the holly are listed at the start of each verse and then developed in relation to the Christmas story.


“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.”

(traditional carol)

Related words

ivy, mistletoe, poinsettia

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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