What is Mistletoe?
Mistletoe is a plant that grows on branches or trunks of trees. There are two types of mistletoe. The mistletoe that is commonly used as a Christmas decoration is native to North America and grows as a parasite on trees in the west, as well as in a line down the east from New Jersey to Florida. The other type of mistletoe is of European origin. The European mistletoe is a green shrub with small, yellow flowers and white, sticky berries which are considered poisonous.
Does Mistletoe have Magic?
It had been thought that mistletoe had magical qualities. The druids utilized mistletoe as part of a fertility ceremony. The ritual of cutting the mistletoe from the oak evolved to symbolize the emasculation of the old King by his successor. Mistletoe was long regarded as both a sexual symbol and the “soul” of the oak. It was gathered at both mid-summer and winter solstices, and the custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is a survival of the Druid and other pre-Christian traditions. Middle Ages and later, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits. In Europe, it was placed over the house and stable doors to prevent the entrance of witches. It was also believed that the oak mistletoe could extinguish fire, associated with an earlier belief that the mistletoe itself could come to the tree during a flash of lightning.
Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?
Kissing under the mistletoe started with the Greeks in their celebration of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites due to its power of fertility. In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up. In the eighteenth-century the English came up with the idea of the kissing ball. At Christmas time a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe could not refuse to be kissed. The kiss signified deep romance, lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained unkissed, she could not expect not to marry the following year. In European countries and Canada a couple in love exchanges a kiss under the mistletoe, and is interpreted as a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life. In France, the custom linked to mistletoe was reserved for New Year’s Day: “Au gui l’An neuf” (Mistletoe for the New Year). Today, kisses can be exchanged under the mistletoe any time during the holiday season.
May the mistletoe be plentiful and your holidays be joyful!