We all have seen our favorite couples kiss under a mistletoe on screen. A mistletoe holds a special place in our heart. It is an integral part of Christmas spirit.However, this often makes us question, where did it originate? Also, what was the reason behind it? With the coming holiday, it is important that we understand its origin and purpose. While it is fun to celebrate our beloved Christmas, it is also fun to read some less known facts about the traditions we follow.
While there are many variations around Mistletoe’s use in Christmas. However, it was Celtic Druids in 1 AD who used it for decoration. As you may know, the flowers of this plant bloom in winters. Druids viewed it as a sacred symbol of Life. They used mistletoes to cure fertility in animals and humans. Some origin of healing using mistletoe can also be seen in ancient Greece and Rome. They used it to treat spleen disorder, poisons and ulcers.
Also, according to a greek philosopher, it was a gift from heaven.This continued till middle ages. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century when kissing traditions appeared in England. It is believed that this tradition originated due to fertility and conception. Later, it evolved into stealing a kiss from women under the mistletoe. Refusing the kiss was often considered as bad luck. Fortunately, now it’s not as strict.
Why this plant?
As we said, the mistletoe did not wither in winters. This was a key point surrounding all belief and customs. They are actually parasitic plants that feed on other plants for their food. Often found on Oak trees, they feeded on its nutrients to stay alive. This might explain why they could bloom even in winters. Ancient Europians had keen interest in their nature. Many philosophers observed the use of trees in their daily life.
Due its Life essence, it was held sacred. However, when Chritianity widespread in Europe, the tradition was carried on with Christmas. Despite its healing properties, it is very poisonous. Eating berries or drinking its tea can result in drowsiness, weakness and even seizure! Unknown to many, it actually has many variations. Most popular one’s are European Mistletoe( Viscum album) that we usually see on Christmas. However, American mistletoe differs from traditional mistletoe as it grows locally.
Myths around it
Every tradition has multiple mythology around it. Mistletoe are no exceptions. While we did tell you what Greeks, Romans and Druids believed, there are many more stories around mistletoe. Other than healing, they also believed that it saves people from witches and evil spirit.
Norse Mythology: Norse goddess of love and fertility, Frigg’s son was prophesied to die. She takes an oath from things( except mistletoe)of the world that it would do no harm to his beloved son. However,an arrow made of mistletoe kills her son. She weeps for her loss. Soon, her tears turn the mistletoe’s arrows into white berries. Her son, Baldr, returns to life. She vows that anyone standing under mistletoe will come to no harm. In many interpretations, it was Loki, God of Mischief , that kills Baldr. The kiss symbolises her promise to protect those who stand beneath the mistletoe.
Hanging Mistletoe: A popular myth surrounded mistletoe that it was heaven’s golden sickle. According to legend, it lost its powers as soon as it touched the ground(earth).This belief continued the tradition of ‘hanging-mistletoe’. In ancient Druid, they believed that it brought good luck and ward off evil spirits. This created the tradition of decorating the front door with it. Also, since more of the flowers had withered in winter. It is natural to assume that it was, thus, most suitable for decoration in winters.
Scandinavian Belief: If male and female met under mistletoe, it was mandatory to kiss. They stay with each other until the next day. Also, if enemies found each other under mistletoe, they couldn’t fight with each other until the next day.
Just like interesting myths, it has some interesting stories and movies about it. Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus calls mistletoe “baleful”. We can understand association as berries of mistletoe are poisonous. Earliest reference has to be 1843’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. In 1958, the song ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree‘ was a major hit in the US. However, movies like American Psycho, Toy Story, Harry Potter and Order Of Phoenix, Happiest Season made this more popular.
“Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it, but a Kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.”
The lines of Bruce Wyane from Batman Returns definitely captures the significance of Mistletoe in our culture. While other plants wither, it stands tall. This creates an artistic symbol between nature and humans. It also stands for the symbol of peace and good friendship.
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