Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Kissing under the Mistletoe
Mistletoe is one of the traditions of the Christmas Season. But did you know—
Mistletoe is an evergreen. The traditions of displaying evergreens at Christmas came about as a way to bring color and the green hope of spring into the home.
This plant however is a parasitic shrub. It grows on trees, living off the host plant. They are not full parasites, since the plants are capable of photosynthesis. But these mistletoe plants are parasitic in the sense that they send a special kind of root system down into their hosts, the trees upon which they grow, in order to extract nutrients from the trees.
Mistletoe has long been regarded as an aphrodisiac and fertility herb. It may also possess abortifacient qualities, which would help explain its association with uninhibited sexuality.
The unusual botanical history of mistletoe goes a long way towards explaining the awe in which it was held in the Norse myths. For in spite of not being rooted in the soil, mistletoe remained green throughout the winter, while the trees upon which it grew and upon which it fed did not (the European mistletoe often grows on apple trees; more rarely on oaks). The fascination this must have exerted over pre-scientific peoples is understandable.
Mistletoe was first hung in farmhouses and kitchens so young men could kiss the maidens while standing under it. Only they were to pluck a white berry each time they kissed and when the berries were gone so were the kisses. The berries are poisonous.
The Druids believed it was sacred and held medicinal and supernatural qualities. That is the mistletoe of oak trees. Other types of trees also have their own parasite or mistletoe but it is the Oak that was the most favored.
The Druid priesthood held a ceremony around Christmas time or five days after the New Moon following the winter solstice. They cut the mistletoe from a holy oak with a golden sickle, catching the branches before they hit the ground. The branches were divided into sprigs and given to the people to hang above their doorways for protection against thunder, lightning, and other evils.
The folklore, and the magical powers of this plant, spread through the centuries It was thought placing a sprig in a baby's cradle would protect the child from faeries. Giving a sprig to the first cow calving after New Year would protect the entire herd.
Celts believed that because mistletoe received sustenance from the host tree it also held the soul of the tree.
Ancient Scandinavia and the Norse mythology is where the tale of kissing und the mistletoe started. It was considered a plant of peace in Scandinavian history. If enemies found themselves under mistletoe in the forest they laid down their weapons and called a truce until the next day.
Most say kissing under the mistletoe is an English custom there is a story that dates back to Norse mythology. It is about an overprotective mother.
The Norse god Balder was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that sprang from the four elements--fire, water, air, and earth--that they would not harm her beloved Balder.
Leave it to Loki, a sly, evil spirit, to find the loophole. The loophole was mistletoe. He made an arrow from its wood. To make the prank even nastier, he took the arrow to Hoder, Balder's brother, who was blind. Guiding Holder's hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder's heart, and he fell dead.
Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant--making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.
Is hanging mistletoe a tradition in your family