For Christmas my grandmother used to take seeds, like barley, wheat or chickpeas, while still in their shells, and lay them out on a tray over cotton, water them, place them in the sun until the seeds sprouted and the grains began to grow. She would then place this under the Christmas tree. This year I did the same with the barley seeds I harvested from our farm in Dibeen.
Barley used to be a staple of my ancestors diet. It was domesticated as far back as 10,000 years ago, around the same time as wheat. It was used as food, to make beer, and to feed animals (as it still often gets used today). Barley was also used as a currency by some, and was a staple cereal of many societies for bread and beer. Barley is associated with the Babylonian and Sumerian Goddess Shala who was associated with the constellation of Virgo.
Shala, was the goddess of agriculture, fertility, compassion and grains like barley. In fact, agriculture was deeply connected to compassion, because the sprouting up of food is an act of compassion from the earth, for human beings working all year to ensure they have enough food to last and go around, year after year.
It then makes so much sense to me that my grandmother would do this every year at Christmas. In the cold of winter, when the rains were bringing the grains back up through the earth, placing a tray of sprouted barley under the Christmas tree was a reminder and hope of this compassion from the earth, that has nourished and sustained us for thousands of years.