Symbols of Christmas: Mistletoe

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant.

Mistletoe is the common name for a group of plants in the order Santalales that grow attached to and within the branches of a tree or shrub.  Almost all mistletoes are hemi-parasites, bearing evergreen leaves that do some photosynthesis, and using the host mainly for water and mineral nutrients. However, the mistletoe first sprouts from bird feces on the trunk of the tree and indeed in its early stages of life takes it nutrients from this source. [-Wiki]

Kissing Tradition

Kissing under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites. They probably originated from two beliefs. One belief was that it has power to bestow fertility. It was also believed that the dung from which the mistletoe would also possess “life-giving” power. In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up. Later, the eighteenth-century English credited with a certain magical appeal called a kissing ball. At Christmas time a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, cannot refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained un-kissed, she cannot expect not to marry the following year. In some parts of England the Christmas mistletoe is burned on the twelfth night lest all the boys and girls who have kissed under it never marry. Whether we believe it or not, it always makes for fun and frolic at Christmas celebrations. Even if the pagan significance has been long forgotten, the custom of exchanging a kiss under the mistletoe can still be found in many European countries as well as in Canada. Thus if a couple in love exchanges a kiss under the mistletoe, it is interpreted as a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life. In France, the custom linked to mistletoe was reserved for New Year’s Day: “Au gui l’An neuf” (Mistletoe for the New Year). Today, kisses can be exchanged under the mistletoe any time during the holiday season. [source]

Who knew mistletoe was such an intriguing plant?

[photo credit]


Author: nancybond

A writer, photographer, naturalist from small town Nova Scotia, Canada.

10 thoughts on “Symbols of Christmas: Mistletoe”

  1. Mistletoe grows in Oklahoma where I used to live. As kids, we used to climb up and get a bunch to decorate at Christmas. Back then, we only knew of the kissing tradition, I have learned the rest since.

  2. Nancy girl I just read about this over on another blog where it has become a true nuisance to some trees .. actually strangling them eventually .. the trees that is, oops !
    But we just love these traditions and look at this plant as a fun part of Christmas : )
    Very nice post .. and that last picture is a dandy !
    Joy : )

  3. It used to be a tradition with my family. We’d take a 22 rifle and go shoot it out of the tree. It grows way up high here. I remember my dad kissing my mom on more than one occasion–that was back when people blushed at such show of affection in public.

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