I mean of course the tree and not a person.
This time of year holly takes centre stage… “of all the trees in the woods, the holly bears the crown.”
Have you used holly in your house as a Christmas decoration?
The deep glossy green of the leaves and, if you are lucky enough to find a female holly you could have some bright red berries to add a festive touch to internal décor. (Yes, there are male and female holly trees, and only the females have berries)
It is obviously commonly used – just today I have been making a Christmas wreath that features a lot of holly – and ivy, and I use holly to cheer up some dull corners at Christmas.
However, do you know why we use holly at Christmas?
There are the practical reasons. Holly is an evergreen, so when the deciduous trees have lost their last leaves, holly is still green. There are the Christian representations of red berries for Christs blood, and prickles for Christs crown.
The best explanation, though, is one that takes into account different beliefs. Holly is seen as a symbol of protection; it is the fairies pick of all the trees – as it gives them somewhere to hide!
If you were an ancient Celt you would know fairies can be a problem. They curdle the milk, upset the cat, and generally cause chaos. You do not want them in your house causing problems! In winter though, they like a bit of warmth, and seek out the shelter of human dwellings. This can be an issue, especially near the winter solstice, when the nights are longest and give the most cover to fairy mischief.
So what can be done? – There are remedies to keep you home fairy free – but these are not always guaranteed to work. As with many aspects of nature, it is often better to work with the problem rather than against it. As everyone know fairies cause far fewer issues when they have somewhere to live – safe and sound.
The answer of course is to bring in holly from the outside to give the fairies somewhere to call their own. This solves this tricky little nuisance.
I know this, as I have often asked people about their use of holly around Christmas.
Did you answer yes to having holly in the house? Do you have problems with the fairies?
See – it works….
So why have I told that tale? Well, it always amuses me, and when I use it on a winter’s plant walk, I guess a wry chuckle from participants. But the title of my blog is on Holly, fairies and research.
So what has this got to do with research? In a way nothing, but in a way everything, and to me it explains the importance and power of research.
In educational settings there are always theories as to what should be done to achieve in new and more effective ways. Take the concept of learning styles. Interventions aimed at teachers, asking them to teach in different ways – to target learning styles showed an increase in attainment. Thus the conclusion was that teachers should assess each child’s learning style and present information in this manner.
This bares distinct similarities to the story of fairies; a premise is set out, observations made, and conclusion drawn based on the pre-conceived notion, without putting into place unbiased research open to scrutiny that can be peer reviewed.
So what can be done to over come this “false positive” assumption. The simple answer is good research.
Research in psychology and social sciences is often boiled down to quantitative – that is measurable, and qualitative – that is observable.
If we were to take the situation of holly preventing fairy mischief we could do an experiment. In a typical house, or houses we could measure the number of fairy related problems with and without holly to see if that is why people bring holly into the house.
We could measure the effect of fairy problems using questionnaires - give people, both those who do use holly and those who don’t a quiz on their issues with fairies.
Or if we wanted to look at the holly issue more ethnographically, we could do this by interviewing people on their reasons for bringing holly into the house, or observing them as they decorate their homes.
There is a slight possibility that these approaches may debunk my theory on holly, which ruins a perfectly good story. Therefore, I will not be pursuing the matter further.
More importantly however, I feel that theories in education, wellbeing and child development should be open to this sort of approach – what alternative ideas could the explain the findings of the study on learning styles? How could this be assessed? This questioning attitude is essential for all ideas, and the narrative should not obscure the facts.
I am starting a PhD in wellbeing and wildlife – learning in the outdoors. I am seeking funding for this, and as a part of any donation you make I will endeavor to offer you a summary of relevant, up to date research in this area, taking a questioning and analytical stance. I will aim not to let the “good story” outweigh the evidence - this is my chance to try and overcome some of the biases in how information is presented.
If you would like to donate please go to www.gofundme.com/wildlife-and-wellbeing