Language of flowers – holly : Let’s enjoy Setsubun

 Language of flowers – holly : Let’s enjoy Setsubun

One of Setsubun customs is to place a spring of holly with grilled sardine heads in order to protect from evil.

It is said demons are afraid of sharp points of leaves poking their eyes, and they are driven away by smoke and smell from grilled sardine.

Today, let’s learn language of holly and enjoy the Setsubun festival.

Language of flowers – holly : Let’s enjoy Setsubun



One of language of holly “cautious” came from that it is not easy to touch sharp points of leaves.

The name “hiiragi iwashi (holly and sardine) is different by region. However, the main point, which is to protect from evil, is the same. Also, the way to decorate is similar in many areas. It is put grilled sardine head stuck on a spring of holly at the entrance of the house.

It can drive demons away by smell of sardine, and protect them by sharp points of holly leaves. So it is a very “cautious” decoration.



Let’s learn about demons that is the target of bean throwing. As we say “Demons out, luck in”, demons are the personification of illness and disaster.

So, to wipe demons out means that to get rid of bad luck. The colours of red and blue demons express the colour of a dead person.

On Setsubun, we drive away demons by roasted beans, grilled sardines, and holly with sharp points. People have been keeping family safe.



One of language of flowers “protection” came from sharp points of holly that can be an amulet.

Holly is an amulet in not only Japan but China. It is said that demons are driven away by sounds of firecrackers with leaves of holly. In addition, a vampire is driven away by holly in Western countries.

There are some theories on why holly can be an amulet. Probably edge of holly leaves is one of the sharpest in plants with leaves, and leaves don’t fall in winter. Everyone wants to protect family.



Holly blooms with white flowers in December. The flowers are quite small and smell like sweet olives. It is not strong smell flowers, but you could smell from far away. Therefore, language of flowers “foresight” and “forecast” came from this characteristic.

The flowers bloom before Setsubun. Sweet olives bloom first, and tea olives, osmanthus fragrans, and then holly regarding Osmanthus. All of them smell sweet but differently. It may be nice to compare the smells.


Wish I had foresight

Setsubun means the day before new season starts, so it is originally the days before spring, summer, autumn, and winter start. However, now we think that Setsubun is the day before spring starts.

In ancient calendar, a new year started from the beginning of spring to the end of winter. So Setsubun was an ancient New Year’s Eve.

When you hear temple bells on New Year’s Eve, you may wish like “This year will finish and a new year will come. I wish I have a good year”. On Setsubun, people may have wished like we do now on New Year’s Eve.


Welcome happiness

Young leaves of holly are very sharp, on the other hand, old ones are round. It is like us, isn’t it? As one gets older, he/she can accept whatever comes at him/her.

Setsubun is the coldest time in a year. Like people in a cold area help each other, we should help each other more in cold season. So let’s throw beans with your family and put holly and sardine at entrance of your house. You can feel happy to be with your family.



Branches of holly are smooth and strong. Therefore they have been used as a hammer handle and pillar. This characteristic is associated with “upright”. When you hear “upright”, would you imagine a stubborn character?

Holly branches are straight. Holly is used for hedges as it is not tall. It has leaves with sharp points so that it is like a bodyguard.


When we hear holly, we imagine holly berries used for Christmas decoration. But it is a different type from one used for Setsubun. It is a bit confusing.

Anyway, holly is used as an amulet all over the world. This is because the leaves are very sharp. I will put holly and sardine, and throw beans to drive away demons this year. Of course, I will have roll sushi too.



Language of flowers – holly : Let’s enjoy Setsubun

– Cautious
– Caution
– Protection
– Forecast
– Wish I had foresight
– Welcome happiness
– Upright

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