poem above was written in December, 1826, and last line refers to the custom of
plucking a berry every time a kiss was stolen beneath the kissing bough. Once
the berries were gone, the kissing was over. By
Victorian times, the kissing bough was quite a complex construction. Five circles
of wire were joined together to form a globe, and evergreens were bound around
the wires. Apples were hung in the center and there could also be candles fixed.
A large bunch of mistletoe was hung beneath. It could also be decorated with paper
flowers. As there would be few flowers available in December in England, paper
flowers might have been popular Christmas decorations. The mistletoe bough from
1794, however, is simply tied up and hung from the ceiling.
or "the golden bough" was held sacred by both the Celtic Druids and
the Norseman. Once called "Allheal," it was used in folk medicine to
cure many ills. North American Indians also used it for toothaches, measles and
dog bites. Mistletoe was the plant of peace in Scandinavian antiquity. If enemies
met by chance beneath it in a forest, they laid down their arms and maintained
a truce until the next day. In parts of England and Wales farmers would give the
Christmas bunch of mistletoe to the first cow that calved in the New Year. This
was thought to bring good luck to the entire herd.
dating back to the eighth century believed that mistletoe had the power to raise
humans from the dead, relating to the resurrection of Balder, the god of the summer
sun. Balder had a dream that he was going to die. His mother, Frigga, the goddess
of love and beauty, was frantic about his dream and said that if he died, everything
on Earth would die. To ensure her son's safety, Frigga went to all of the elements
(air, fire, water and earth, as well as to all of the animals and plants) and
asked them not to kill Balder. In the same way a child would be heckled these
days if his mother asked kids not to pick on her child, Balder was teased and
had things thrown at him. It was thought that, because of his mother's power,
he was immune to harm.
only enemy, Loki, found a loophole in Frigga's request for her son's safety ...Mistletoe.
Mistletoe grows on the tree it attaches itself to, and therefore has no roots
of its own and could not be affected by Frigga's request. Loki made a poisoned
dart with mistletoe, and tricked the blind brother of Balder, Hoder, into shooting
the arrow that killed Balder. For three days, all the elements tried their hardest
to bring Balder back to life, but failed. Finally, the tears that Frigga cried
for her dead son changed the red mistletoe berries to white, raising Balder from
the dead. Frigga then reversed mistletoe's bad reputation, and kissed everyone
who walked underneath it out of gratitude for getting her son back.
myth in mistletoe's past comes from Britain. In the first century, the Druids
in Britain believed that mistletoe could perform miracles. Mistletoe was used
by the Druid priesthood in a very special ceremony held five days after the New
Moon following winter solstice. The Druid priests would cut mistletoe from a holy
oak tree with a golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before the touched
the ground. The priests then divided the branches into many sprigs and distributed
them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection
against thunder, lightning and other evils.
under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia
and later with primitive marriage rites. Mistletoe was believed to have the power
of bestowing fertility, and the dung from which the mistletoe was thought to arise
was also said to have "life-giving" power. 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.
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens:
"From the centre of the ceiling
of this kitchen, old Wardle had just suspended with his own hands
huge branch of mistletoe, and this same branch of mistletoe instantaneously gave
rise to a
scene of general and most delightful struggling and confusion; in
the midst of which,
Mr. Pickwick, with a gallantry that would have done honour
to a descendant of
Lady Tollimglower herself, took the old lady by the hand,
led her beneath the
mystic branch, and saluted her in all courtesy and decorum."