The Magic Of Mistletoe
There’s a commercial going around this year featuring a young man who walks around with a sprig of mistletoe, placing it over his head each time he encounters a pretty girl, claiming it’s ‘tradition.’ It brings a smile to my face each time I see the commercial, but like so many holiday traditions, I wondered when and where such a silly tradition began. Turns out, mistletoe has been with us since the age of the Druids. It’s been responsible for ladies being single for an additional year. It’s even got a place in the events leading up to Jesus’ death. There’s a lot of ‘tradition’ associated with the little sprig.
The use of mistletoe in religion can be traced back to the Druids in the first century AD, where it was given holy importance and prized for its healing properties. The fact that it grew green in the dead of winter signified rebirth and fertility in the minds of the Druids.
During the Middle Ages, sprigs of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits. In Europe, they were hung at the entrances to houses and stables to prevent evil spirits and witches from entering.
In England, sprigs of mistletoe were hung around various boarding houses. The maids tried to trap the gentlemen boarders under the mistletoe in order to kiss them, after which encounter the man had to pay a shilling. This might have been the beginning of the custom of tipping, for all we know.
At English folk festivals, young men were given free license to kiss any girl they wanted, as long as it was under a sprig of mistletoe that contained berries. During the Victorian era, kissing under the mistletoe became a serious undertaking. A kiss would signify a deep romance or lasting friendship. If a couple in love exchanged a kiss under the mistletoe, it was interpreted as a promise to marry and to have a happy and long life. Each time a kiss was stolen, the man had to pluck a berry. Once the berries were gone, no more kissing was allowed. If a woman rejected a man’s request for a kiss, or if a woman remained unkissed, they would suffer a year of bad luck and would entertain no marriage proposals during the coming twelve months.
These traditions migrated to America along with the settlers from European nations.
But what does all this have to do with the events leading up to the demise of Jesus? There is a Christian myth that the cross on which He died was made from Mistletoe wood, which afterward shrank in shame to its present size. Now, mistletoe grows as a parasite on other plants, and appears to writhe within itself like a snake to form a ball.
With so much historical significance behind it, I’m willing to go along with the silly tradition of kissing under the mistletoe if you are.