DECEMBER
2000

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

12-14-00

Deck the Halls with Christmas Bugs

When it's time to “deck the halls” for the Christmas holidays, there are all kinds of traditional decorations. Plant material like evergreen trees, holly boughs, poinsettias and sprigs of mistletoe show up. Icicles and snowflakes adorn windows and mantles. Santa and Mrs. Claus, elves, reindeer and angels are everywhere. Candy canes, sleighs, and bells and even a mouse or two sneak onto the Christmas scene.

Tradition is important when it comes to Christmas decorations—especially when trimming the tree. To some people, the only properly decorated tree is one that is just like the one “we used to know.”

So we still decorate the tree with strings of popcorn or cranberries like Grandma taught us to make years ago. Remember those construction-paper chains from our grade-school days? If you look, you can still find those faded chains of Christmas past in the tree decoration box that is maintained by many households.

We put all kinds of ornaments on the tree, too. Hand-made gifts from loved ones are popular. Commemorative items that represent important occasions like weddings, births and graduations show up on the tree as well. And, today, all kinds of ornaments representing hobbies or themes are readily available. So you can decorate a tree for the gardener, the golfer or the hunter in the family.

You can even trim the tree in insect things. In fact, insect decorations on Christmas trees go way back in history—back to the Middle Ages.

Ladybugs are a popular insect motif in tree decorations. The ladybug has been a traditional symbol of good luck in Europe. That idea goes back to the time when Medieval farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help with their insect problems. When the insect that we know as the ladybug showed up to feed on the offending aphids, it was named after “Our Lady” Mary. 

Honey bees are also used to decorate Christmas trees. Honey bees have always been a symbol of industry and prosperity. Long ago, British farmers believed that bees hummed in honor of the Christ child on the first Christmas in Bethlehem.

The most popular of all insects for Christmas decorations is the butterfly. For thousands of years, the butterfly has been considered a symbol of eternal life for humans. The butterfly is also a Christian symbol where the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis represents the resurrection of Christ.

Butterflies are symbols of freedom, too. And they represent the spring season and the beauty of nature. With all of that symbolism and the beauty of butterflies in general, it is not surprising that they are widely used as decorative items in this festive season.

Today, dragonflies are available as tree ornaments. They just seem to have gained popularity in Western cultures recently because of their artistic shape. However, in Japanese culture, dragonflies have always been held in high regard.

Lights—candles or electric—also are important as Christmas decorations. Firefly lights are available to string on the tree, as are lights that are honey bees. My sister recently sent me two old strings of tree lights that included dragonflies, praying mantis, ladybugs and lightning bugs.

Some people can deck the halls with boughs of holly if they want, but this year I'm going with strings of bug lights. Well, maybe not; I haven't discussed it with my wife yet!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox