When Celia suggested we use a personal holiday theme for December, I thought about all our family traditions we celebrate during the season. First and foremost is our display of the Nativity Scene above the mantel and our decorated Christmas tree in the living room. Also we enjoy the popular customs like stockings and wreathes hung, candles all aglow, fruitcakes and cookies baked and shared, and oh yes, we never forget our well-worn elves on the shelves every year!
But there's another traditional decoration some folks display in their homes, including ours ... Mistletoe. What kind of plant is it and where does it come from, some may wonder. And where did the holiday tradition of kissing under the mistletoe originate?
Mistletoe is commonly found growing as a parasitic plant. There are two types of mistletoe. The mistletoe that is commonly used as a Christmas decoration (Phoradendron flavescens) is native to North America and grows as a parasite on trees from New Jersey to Florida. The other type of mistletoe, (Viscum Album) is of European origin.
The use of Mistletoe goes back to the times of ancient Druids. They didn’t kiss under it, but they believed the plant, especially a rare species that grew on oak trees, to have sacred powers including the ability to heal illnesses, protect against nightmares, and even predict the future. The Druids would hang the plant in their houses hoping it would bring them good luck and ward off evil spirits.
Mistletoe was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology and that’s where it’s believed the custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from. Mistletoe continued to be associated with fertility and vitality through the Middle Ages, and by the 18th century it had also become incorporated into Christmas celebrations around the world.
Victorian England is credited with perpetuating the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. The custom dictated that a man was allowed to kiss any woman standing underneath mistletoe and that bad luck would befall any woman who refused the kiss. One variation on the tradition was with each kiss a berry was to be plucked from the mistletoe and the kissing must stop after all the berries had been removed. Thus, the traditions which began with the European mistletoe were transferred to the similar American plant with the process of immigration and settlement.
So, how many of you decorate your homes with a sprig of mistletoe (real or artificial) and follow the romantic tradition of couples kissing when caught standing under it? Oh, by the way, I should mention that the plant is poisonous, so please, don’t eat it. Just Kiss!
A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS TO EVERYONE!
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