The Mystery of Mistletoe
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1993. All rights reserved.

Christmas trees are decorated with lights that ward off the darkness of winter. Wreathes hanging on doors symbolize the circle of the seasons. Reminders of the Christian holiday (stars, manger scenes, candles) and the spirit of giving (Santa Claus mugs, stockings, presents)are everywhere this time of year.

But why hang sprigs of mistletoe from ceilings? And why kiss people unexpectedly as they pass beneath some waxy green leaves and white berries?

The mistletoe tradition is one of the more unusual trappings of the Christmas season, a curious leftover from ancient solstice rituals and Roman feasts.
Mistletoe is a parasite, growing from the branches of trees. It sucks water and nutrients from its host, sometimes destroying the tree or distorting its growth.

Birds like cedar waxwings help propogate the plant. They eat the mistletoe's berries but don't digest the seeds. Their droppings carry the germ of new mistletoe to tree limbs far and wide.

Early-day Scandinavians called the plant "mistilteinn," derived from "mista," meaning dung. From this lowly origin, mistletoe somehow became associated with hope, peace, harmony, and romantic affection.
Perhaps because it blooms late in the year and shows berries in winter the mistletoe has attracted a lot of attention.

Among the mysterious Druids, who inhabited the British Isles centuries ago, mistletoe was a plant of particular honor and power. Enemies who chanced to meet beneath a tree with mistletoe growing on it were required to lay down their arms and forget their quarrel. Sprigs of the plant were hung in the home for harmony and good luck and outside the house to welcome visitors.

Mistletoe was "omnia sanitatem" to the Druids, meaning "all healing." They prescribed it as a cure for female infertility and as an antidote for poison.

In Scandinavian legends, mistletoe belonged to Frigga, the goddess of love. It was the only organism in the world from which Baldur, a son of the chief god Odin, was not protected. A dart made from mistletoe brought Baldur down to earth.
Kissing beneath the mistletoe may have started with the Druids, or perhaps the Romans who used the plant as a decorative green at their winter parties. By 1520 it was common enough in England that the writer William Irving suggested that young men should pick a berry each time they kissed a young girl beneath the mistletoe.
The Catholic Church, during the fourth century, forbade the use of mistletoe at Christmastime because of its "idolatrous" associations, and that forbearance has lingered in Christian churches to this day. But in many secular households where Christmas is celebrated the mistletoe still lingers,like a virus that won't be shaken. Its tendrils wind their way through human history, carried on the wings of birds.

Rural Delivery
Rural Delivery

Commentaries and advice 
on rural living
by Michael Hofferber
Visit the Rural Delivery Blog
The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas

Hot Drinks

Mistletoe And Holly Kissing Ball

Farmers Market Books
Market Entrance
The Nature Pages
Lease a Booth
Search the Market
Buy Direct Directory