Thursday, December 21, 2006

Kate Bridges: The History of Kissing Under the Mistletoe

The holiday season has always been a feast for the senses—the fragrance of pine, the rich taste of eggnog and cinnamon, velvet packages beneath the tree and pretty red bows attached to evergreen in our doorways. But has anything produced more smiles than two sweethearts lingering under the mistletoe, hoping for a kiss? Perhaps you’ve lingered there yourself.

For thousands of years, mistletoe has been considered a magical plant. Mistletoe is an evergreen and there are over 1300 varieties around the world. Kissing beneath it was first associated with Ancient Greek and Roman festivals, and later in primitive marriage rites.

Some say our modern-day custom of kissing under the mistletoe originated centuries ago in Scandinavia, where it arose from Norse mythology. Mistletoe was associated with the goddess of love. When her son was slain by a poisonous arrow of mistletoe, the goddess cried great tears of sorrow, which turned into the white berries of mistletoe and revived him. Thereafter, kissing someone beneath the mistletoe was considered great luck, love and goodwill.

The Druids in northern Europe used mistletoe to decorate the coming of winter and used the plant for healing powers against female infertility and poison ingestion, and as an aphrodisiac. Ancient Romans used it to treat tumors and cancers, something modern-day medical researchers are currently investigating. It was said that meeting an enemy in the forest beneath a sprig of mistletoe meant they had to lay down their arms and declare a truce. From that time forward, hanging mistletoe and kissing beneath it was a sign of peace and friendship.

In the 18th century, the English developed a kissing ball. It was made of many types of greenery and decorated with berries and ribbons. A young lady standing beneath it could not refuse a kiss. If she remained unkissed, she couldn’t expect to marry the following year. In France, the custom was reserved for New Year’s Day. Today, kisses beneath the mistletoe are exchanged anytime during the holiday season.

Kissing balls were also popular in the Wild West Frontier. They're simple to make. Start with a round potato as a base. Collect several types of greenery: pine, juniper, boxwood, holly, cedar, ivy and/or mistletoe. Soak the greenery in water over night to maintain freshness. The next day, insert the greenery into the potato until completely covered. Decorate with ribbons, berries, pine cones, and acorns. Insert a long wire to hang it off the doorway.

Happy holidays and all the best in the coming New Year,

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