Mistletoe is a pretty little plant that many of us perhaps don’t really think about that much, unless of course someone dangles it over our head at Christmas, then it has a lot of meaning! Here, we look at the story as to why mistletoe has such importance.
Where Did The Meaning Come From?
From the earliest recorded references, mistletoe has always featured as a magical plant in folklore and is thought to have many different powers including:
Helping provide life and fertility
Protecting people against poison
Being an aphrodisiac
The Celtic Druids had a particularly strong connection to the plant and used to perform ancient rituals during different stages of the moon’s cycle. Therefore using it to decorate the house at Christmas is an ancient tradition carried on from both Druid and Christian traditions.
The Greeks also had a connection with the plant, believing it had magical powers and it can be found referenced in many of their ancient stories.
From The Middle Ages
From the Middle Ages onwards, mistletoe was hung from the ceiling to keep evil spirits away, with Europeans dangling this magical plant over their stable doors to protect their horses and ward off witches.
The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe comes from the Greek Saturnalia festival and also very early marriage traditions. Plenty of different beliefs from different parts of the world at different times in history influenced the tradition, and all of those have combined over the years. Fast forward to today and we are left with our own version, which differs slightly depending on the country you are in.
The 18th Century Onwards
People in various religious groups believed mistletoe could give fertility and they also believed it was a plant of peace. In the 18th century the UK created something called a kissing ball, which was a large Christmas decoration with ribbons, fir and mistletoe that hung from the ceiling and if a woman stood under it, she could not refuse a kiss.
The meaning of the kiss could be kindness, friendship or potential romance depending on who gave the kiss, the worrying thing was if no-one kissed the woman at all. If no-one kissed the woman whilst she stood under the ball, she was guaranteed not to marry for at least a year following that date.
In the UK another tradition was to burn mistletoe on the twelfth night of Christmas, otherwise couples who kissed under it would not marry.
The mistletoe kissing tradition is a really nice one, and it always adds fun to Christmas celebrations. Many countries hold the tradition at Christmas to this day, and France champions it for New Year’s Day and calls it 'Au Gui L’an Neuf', which means Mistletoe For The New Year.
To incorporate it into your Christmas decorations, consider hanging a little sprig above the door with a ribbon tied around it, placing some into a Christmas wreath, or even making your own little decorations with red ribbon bells.
Or, if you’re trying to be extra romantic this Christmas, give someone a bunch of it as a gift – they’ll soon get the hint!