The Diary Of A Green Thumb
When most people find a sprig of mistletoe hung in a doorway, they are quick to steal a kiss! It is one of my favorite holiday customs. But do you know where this tradition began? Well, mistletoe had been a sacred symbol of magic, peace, healing, and love since ancient times!
Mistletoe is a common name for what is actually a parasite! There are more than a hundred species of mistletoe grown around the word. The name comes from the Anglo Saxon “Mistletan” meaning “twig” and “different” because this plant forms an evergreen shrub that attaches itself to other tree branches. It has greenish-yellow foliage with tight clusters of toxic white berries.
One story that carries the tradition of mistletoe dates back to the eighth century. Nordic Mythology has told the story of Balder, the God of the summer sun, and his mother, Frigga, the Goddess of love and beauty. One night, Balder had a dream that he was going to die. Frigga turned to the Gods of all of the elements, the animals and plants to ask their help in saving her son. Loki, an enemy of Balder, found a loophole in Frigga’s request. Because mistletoe doesn’t have roots, it was not considered a plant. Loki made a poisoned dart with the bark of the mistletoe, which killed Balder. For three days his mother cried. Her tears turned the berries of the mistletoe from red to white, and raised Balder from the dead. Frigga was full of gratitude, and kissed everyone who walked beneath the mistletoe for helping to save her son.
The ancient people believed that mistletoe could cure disease, increase fertility, provide protection from witches, and bring good fortune. This leads us to another tale dated back from the first century. Mistletoe was held with great reverence by the Celtic Druids. Five days after the winter solstice, ceremonies were held by which these men would dress in white robes, and search for mistletoe. Once found, they would use a golden sword to cut the mistletoe that grew from the oak trees, and catch it in white linen to preserve its special powers. Two white bulls would be sacrificed, and the Druids would sing their prayers. A priest would give the sprigs of mistletoe to the people of the town to offer protection from evil and storms. It was so sacred, in fact, that if two enemies met beneath a tree with mistletoe, they would lay their swords down and call a truce until the next day. With all of the beautiful symbolism attached to the mistletoe, it is no wonder that the tradition lives on!
By hanging mistletoe in our doorway, and giving it a special place of honor, we carry on the survival of this custom. In early tradition, a man would remove a berry from the mistletoe, and be granted a kiss. When there were no more berries, -no more kisses! To our convenience, new tradition suggests a kiss every time a man and woman meet beneath the magical mistletoe.
Don’t forget to hang yours!
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Wishing you all a Happy Holiday season!