I have always been fascinated with holiday traditions and their origins. Why do we dye Easter eggs? Why do we drink eggnog? Why do we get oranges in our stockings? Why do we grow Amaryllis?
Sometimes traditions have clear religious symbolism behind them, like the angel or the shining star on top of the Christmas tree. Sometimes we just continue traditions because our parents did them, even if we don’t really understand the symbolism behind them. This is why people keep using bunnies and eggs for their Easter decorations every year, often totally oblivious to the fact that these are old fertility symbols associated with the pagan festival of Ostara (aka Eostre).
But sometimes a tradition arises for practical rather than symbolic reasons—some traditions are just the smart thing to do. Eggnog grew popular because it tasted good, and because nothing is more likely to make your holiday feel warm and fuzzy than spiking your drink with some brandy or rum! Oranges in your stocking grew popular after the completion of the transcontinental railroad let the colder parts of the country enjoy some fresh, Vitamin C-rich fruit from Florida or California long after their local farms closed for the year. And Amaryllis, well, they’re simply the most beautiful blooms you can enjoy at this time of year!
Dr. Jerry Parsons explains that what we call “Amaryllis” is actually a hybrid of Hippeastrum which was first introduced as a houseplant in 1799 and which has steadily grown in popularity to the point that it has become a Christmas tradition in a lot of households. This plant is so easy to grow and produces such large colorful flowers that it is a delightful gift, particularly for the middle of winter when little else will grow.
Amaryllis is the perfect flower to grow indoors through the winter because it is a tropical bulb that is easy to force. Its tropical origin makes it well-suited to the warm and relatively dry air inside holiday homes. The bulb form makes it easy to grow, as it already has a year’s worth of energy inside it waiting to burst forth. And the fact that the big, lush blooms are easy to force makes it ideal for growing indoors through the dead of winter.
Connie Nelson of the Star Tribune reports that, for more and more people, Amaryllis are becoming the new standard for holiday beauty, which is reflected in the explosion of new Amaryllis varieties breeders have put out over the last 10 years.
Kathy Van Mullekom of the Daily Press argues that Amaryllis are in the process of usurping the Poinsettia as a family holiday tradition. While Poinsettias are great for one season, Amaryllis can come back year after year.
All over social media you can see this new tradition taking root in families, like this one where the grandmother grew an Amaryllis religiously every year, or the charming story of a mother and daughter whose tradition is “racing” Amaryllis to see whose will bloom first.
On Facebook you can even see events where whole offices have grown Amaryllis and watched to see whose would bloom first and whose would be most beautiful.
Do you have what it takes to win the Amaryllis Challenge? Send pictures of your Amaryllis to your friends on Instagram, or check out #amaryllischallenge to see how others’ plants are doing. Even if you are separated from friends or family by many miles, sharing the growth of Amaryllis can help bring you together for the holiday season!
So if giving Amaryllis isn’t a tradition yet in your family, maybe it should be! Give Amaryllis to friends, family, or co-workers this year and see whose blooms open first—who knows, it might become a new tradition!