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Can You Smell the Easter Lilies?

Holy Week is nearly upon us…my favorite time during the church year. Christmas is great, but for me, this is better.

And as a gardener – and photographer – I really enjoy and appreciate the masses of Easter Lilies used as decoration. Especially in big churches, where there may be scores of them adorning the sanctuary, it’s quite a sight (and aroma).

Often called the "white-robed apostles of hope," lilies are said to have been found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane after Christ's agony. According to tradition, these lovely flowers sprung up where drops of Christ's sweat fell to the ground in his final hours of suffering and anguish.

Particularly contrasted with the solemnity of Good Friday, it’s such an amazing, beautiful – and symbolic – transformation. The Easter Lily isn’t the only floral symbol associated with the holiday, though. In the UK and Russia, for example, the traditional “Easter flower” is the pussy willow. The narcissus is another flower commonly associated with Easter in parts of Europe. But here in the US, millions of lilies are sold each Easter season to mark this wonderful holiday.

Hugely popular now, it wasn’t always that way.

The origins in this country trace back to post-Civil War times. However, because the lilies available at that time bloomed naturally in the early summer, it was considered too much trouble to force them.

Enter the early blooming lily – which we evidently have a WWI soldier to thank for its introduction. Louis Houghton brought a suitcase full of bulbs back home to his family and friends in southern Oregon to plant. The rest, as they say, is history.

Lilies are very persnickety about their growing requirements. Only 10 farms produce the plants which now supply most of the world – and they’re all located on the California/Oregon border.

However you’re about to observe the Resurrection, may God richly bless your celebration.

Easter morn with lilies fair
Fills the church with perfumes rare,
As their clouds of incense rise,
Sweetest offerings to the skies.
Stately lilies pure and white
Flooding darkness with their light,
Bloom and sorrow drifts away,
On this holy hallow’d day.
Easter Lilies bending low in the golden afterglow,
Bear a message from the sod
To the heavenly towers of God.

Louise Lewin Matthews

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