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The Fascinating History of the Mistletoe Plant

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Mistletoe is a plant that we all associate with the festive season. Along with holly mistletoe is one of the most popular Christmas plants that adorn our homes in December. We kiss under the mistletoe but why? Where did that tradition come from? Here we take a look at the origins of mistletoe, where it came from and why today it remains one of the most widely bought plants at Christmas time.

Mistletoe and the Ancients

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on fruit trees, mainly apple trees or oak trees and has been connected with the Christmas season for many years. We can trace mistletoe back as far as the Ancient Greeks who looked upon the plant as being sacred. The same is said for the Ancient Druids and Celts who would cut the mistletoe from their sacred oak trees at the start of the Winter Solstice. This ceremony takes place on the sixth night of the new moon following the winter solstice, while the Druids would stand beneath those cutting the mistletoe with a sheet outspread in order to catch the plant. The Druids believed it would be blasphemous for the plant to land on the ground when cut.

Once the mistletoe was cut it was divided up between the people so they could hang it from their doorways and windows to protect them from thunder, lightning and other evil elements such as evil spirits. It may seem ridiculous today but the Druids believed that the berries of the mistletoe were the sperm of their gods due to the white fluid that emanates from the berries when squeezed. They also believed mistletoe had aphrodisiac properties and girls would stand under the plant hoping to gain a suitor.

Druids also used mistletoe as a medicine believing it had magical properties and could

  • ❯ Cure illnesses
  • ❯ Cure infertility
  • ❯ Was an antidote for poison
  • ❯ Protected against spells and other types of witchcraft

Kissing Under the Mistletoe

Kissing Under the Mistletoe

Mistletoe was regarded as the plant of peace around the time of the Middle Ages. When enemies came across mistletoe growing in a forest they would stop fighting, lay down their weapons and call a truce till at least the next day. This act was the precursor to the tradition of hanging mistletoe in the home and maybe stealing a kiss or two under it.

The Anglo Saxons believed that the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe originated from the legend of Freya the goddess of love, fertility and beauty. The legend said that men must kiss any young lady who stood unknowingly beneath the mistletoe without realising she was. Couples who were in love kissed and promised to marry under the mistletoe, while it was believed this predicted that they would have a long and happy marriage.

The kissing bough was a popular decoration prior to the introduction of the Christmas tree. This was a circular garland that was hung from the light in the centre of the room. It was decorated with apples, coloured paper and candles then a sprig of mistletoe hung down from the centre. The candles would be lit for the first time on Christmas Eve and thereafter for the twelve days of Christmas.

In Scandinavia mistletoe was considered a plant of peace where enemies could come beneath to cease hostilities. The same went for married couples who were at war with one another they were expected to come under the mistletoe, kiss and make up.

Mistletoe and Christmas

Mistletoe Decorations For Sale

Mistletoe Decorations For Sale

When Christianity came to Europe many believed that mistletoe had evil connotations connected with paganism and tried to ban the plant from hanging in churches although many ignored the advice and hung it anyway. Indeed in the amazing cathedral that is York Minster a mistletoe service used to be held so that criminals in the city could come along and be pardoned under the mistletoe for their crimes.

It was in the 18th and 19th centuries that Britain started hanging mistletoe as part of their decoration ns at Christmas. Charles Dickens the most prolific writer of the Victorian age mentions mistletoe and kissing under the mistletoe in his novels.  Today we still hang mistletoe as part of our Christmas decorations although many of us don't realise what the tradition is about and where it originated. As with many Christmas traditions mistletoe is something from the ancient pagan past that has been incorporated into the Christian Christmas story. Kissing under the mistletoe may seem tame by today's hedonistic standards but we agree that it's an innocent if quaint tradition that brings a smile to the faces of whosoever upholds it as so!