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Hawthorn Tree Flower Meaning and Symbolism

Hawthorn Tree Flower Meaning and Symbolism

We mostly know hawthorn trees for their beautiful flowers and not-so-beautiful smell. However, these wonderful trees bear symbolic importance for many ancient cultures. So, what are the hawthorn tree flower meaning and symbolism? 

The hawthorn tree and flower have symbolized strong marital love since ancient Greece. Additionally, because it blooms at the end of spring, it symbolizes the arrival of summer. Because of its pungent smell, Celts saw hawthorn as a sign of death if brought inside the house.

Continue reading this article to learn the hawthorn tree flower’s meaning and symbolism in detail, as well as its historical relevance. Since hawthorn is used for healing, I’ll also mention its significance in that field.

What Does Hawthorn Symbolize?

When we see hawthorn flowers today, we think of how wonderful they are with their white petals framed by large, round green leaves. However, we’re not the only ones who felt like that.

Throughout history, different cultures ascribed important meanings and symbols to hawthorn trees, from ancient Greeks to Celts. Here are the most important symbols hawthorns carry. 

Love in Ancient Greece

Hawthorns played a crucial role in every marriage ceremony in ancient Greece. It was a symbol of everlasting love and a bringer of a good marriage. 

As such, hawthorns and roses served as gifts for the Greek god of marriage, Hymen. They were meant to please Hymen, who would provide the newlyweds with a long marriage. 

Because of their white flower, hawthorn flowers represent the innocence of youth and strong love between lovers and newlyweds. 

Hawthorn trees were common in ancient Greece, and their use in marriage ceremonies is completely understandable. Everyone could find these trees and pick delicate flowers for their wedding. You didn’t need to be rich to have a perfect ceremony.

Cycle of Rebirth 

Throughout the past, and even today, spring’s been seen as a season of rebirth. It’s the time when the natural world starts to wake from its long winter sleep, and hawthorns play an important role there. 

Hawthorn trees start blooming later in spring, more specifically around May. Because of that, many cultures used hawthorn flowers as staple pieces for their spring festivals, such as the May Day festival.

Since this festival happens in May, it isn’t necessarily welcoming spring but summer. This festival was especially common in Celtic tradition, where it was called Beltane

Beltane served as a festival of both fertility and protection. Since summer was approaching, the beginning of May was a perfect symbol for fertility—hawthorn together with it. 

Celts would burn various trees, including hawthorns, to protect against evil and a dry summer, which meant a lack of food for these agricultural communities. 

Union of Opposites 

Hawthorns are such strong symbols not just because their flowers bloom around summer but because of their physical features. Hawthorn trees produce one of the most memorable flowers, which look really fragile. 

On the other hand, those flowers are surrounded by sharp thorns—which is part of the name. Because of this, hawthorns perfectly symbolize the union of opposites or a balance between the fragile and the sharp. 

That’s partly why ancient Greeks used them in their marriage ceremonies. The opposites attract each other, and the hawthorn symbolizes exactly that. 

Another stark contrast is found in its white flowers, which turn to bright red haws. The contrast between dark green leaves and red haws somehow complements each other and reminds many of Christmas.

Fairy Tree

Another magical symbol connected with hawthorn trees comes from Celtic legends. Celts believed that small fairies lived under hawthorn trees. This shows the strong symbolical importance of hawthorns in Celtic tradition. 

It’s easy to see why Celts would think fairies liked to live under hawthorns. They’re usually not large trees, which makes them perfect for tiny fairies. 

Additionally, because of those unique white flowers and, later on, bright red buds that decorate hawthorns, Celts were certain something magical was going on. 

Naturally, because hawthorns were home to fairies, they were considered to be magical themselves. That’s why many Celts relied on hawthorn trees and flowers to protect themselves against evil spirits.

The Smell of Death

Even nowadays, around springtime, we can smell hawthorn flowers when they’re in full bloom. Unfortunately, it’s not the most pleasant smell. The smell is described as strong, and it reminds many of the following:

  • Fish
  • Garbage
  • Animal corpses

There’s a good scientific explanation for this, and it’s called Trimethylamine. This chemical is present in hawthorn flowers in large quantities, which makes walking close to these trees unpleasant. 

In the past, however, Celts believed that this unpleasant smell was the smell of death, so they avoided bringing hawthorn flowers inside their homes or stables. They truly thought someone might die if they carried hawthorn flowers in their living space. 

Hawthorn and Medicine

Despite its repellent smells, hawthorn’s been used for healing throughout history. Not only are haws safe to eat, but they’re healthy also. Once the flowers turn into haws, people would pick them and:

  • Make tea with the haws
  • Eat haws fresh
  • Make jams

Apart from haws, you can also use the leaves to make a healthy tea. Edible hawthorn produces and teas are especially beneficial for:

  • Digestion issues
  • Heart-related issues
  • High blood pressure.  

Other Uses of Hawthorn

Apart from hawthorn flowers and berries, the actual tree is also very useful. That’s because it’s great as firewood. Apart from that, you can make furniture and ornamental pieces from hawthorn because it’s so sturdy. 

Since hawthorn trees usually grow as bushes and smaller trees, people used hawthorn as fences in the past. Its dense bush, combined with countless thorns, meant no one would trespass onto a property, especially animals. 

Final Thoughts

Hawthorn has gathered numerous meanings throughout history, and many cultures use this tree and its flowers as important symbols – positive and negative. The hawthorn tree flower’s meaning and symbolism include the following:

  • Symbol of long-lasting love (especially in marriage)
  • The arrival of summer and the rebirth of nature
  • Union and balance (because of delicate flowers and sharp thorns)
  • Symbol of death (because of its unpleasant smell in the spring).

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