The Traditions of Mistletoe
by assisting staff, Julie Canfield
Who would dream that a parasitic plant would be so venerated throughout history? Legends have been built around it since druids roamed the Celtic lands. It’s been called magical, mystical, and sacred. It’s been considered an aphrodisiac, a foreteller of marriage, fertility, prosperity, but also poisonous. The druids collected hung mistletoe outside to welcome fertility, health, and prosperity in the coming harvest
The ancients believed in its ability to both heal and ward off evil spirits. This continued into the middle ages when witches were unpopular, but mistletoe continued for the dual purpose of health and prosperity, craved by all.
The first recorded kiss under the mistletoe took place in England sometime in the sixteenth century, but a Norse myth goes back further. It claims Freya, or Frigga, the Norse Goddess of Love, declared no harm would come to those who stood under the humble plant and kissed, as a token of love.
This may be true because the Scandinavians considered mistletoe a peace plant. Enemies that stood under it must lay down their arms. Arguing spouses caught beneath the mistletoe were compelled to kiss and make up. Perhaps we should all partake in this tradition.
The mistletoe myths combined in the eighteenth century when the proper, fun loving English created a decoration made from ribbons, evergreens, and of course, mistletoe. Known as a kissing ball in those days, a young lady who stood beneath it could not refuse a kiss. The kiss could mean friendship or a deep romance. A girl who stood beneath the mistletoe and didn’t receive a kiss could expect to spend the next year making everything but wedding plans.
The English killjoys added an etiquette that said participants must remove a berry from the mistletoe and when the berries were gone, the kissing must stop.
Some parts of England burned mistletoe on the twelfth night to ensure that all who kissed beneath it would get married the next year, while the French kissed beneath the mistletoe only on New Year’s Day. Who would have thought that the French, who greet one another with a kiss and are known for their, shall we say, “loose ways,” would only choose one day to frolic beneath the mistletoe?
Although the myths and stories that surround this humble yet nutrient sucking plant have all but faded from our minds, we still hang mistletoe and try to catch someone beneath it.
To the writers out there, I say hang up a magical branch and see what unfolds. Allow the parasitic strands of the mistletoe to root in your imagination and sprout into a marvelous romantic tale, a twisted fiction, strange mystery, or an entertaining nonfiction. Your next story might begin under the mistletoe.
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