Mistletoe and Holly
Balder, the son of the Norse goddess Frigga, was killed by an arrow
made of mistletoe by Loki, and evil spirit, she wept tears of white
berries which brought him back to life. Overjoyed, Frigga blessed the
plant and bestowed to kiss all who passed beneath it.
was held sacred by the Norse, the Celtic Druids and the North American
Indians. The Druid priests would cut mistletoe from an oak tree with a
golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before they touched the
ground. They 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. The folklore continued over the
centuries. It was believed that a sprig placed in a
baby's cradle would protect the child from goblins. Giving a sprig to
the first cow calving after New Year would protect the entire herd.
was the sacred plant of Saturn and was used at the Roman Saturnalia
festival to honour him. Romans gave one another holly wreaths and
carried them about decorating images of Saturn with it. It was used as
folk medicine for toothache, measles and dog bites.
Mistletoe and holly at Christmas
avoid persecution during the Roman pagan festival of Saturnalis, the
early Christians decked their homes with Saturnalia holly. As Christian
numbers increased and their customs prevailed, holly and mistletoe lost
their pagan associations and became symbols of Christmas.
Peace and joy... and kisses
is a symbol for peace and joy. The idea originated in the ancient times
of the Druids: whenever enemies met under the mistletoe in the forest,
they had to lay down their arms and observe a truce until the next day.
From this comes the custom of hanging a ball of mistletoe from the
ceiling and exchanging kisses under it as a sign of friendship and
the 18th Century, the exchanging of kisses between a man and a woman
was adopted as a promise to marry. At Christmas a young lady standing
under a ball of mistletoe cannot refuse to be kissed. The kiss could
mean deep romance, lasting friendship and goodwill. It was believed
that if the girl remained unkissed, she cannot expect to marry the
Mistletoe before it becomes a wreath.
About the mistletoe plant
is a partial parasite, a "hemiparasite." As a parasitic plant, it grows
on the branches or trunk of a tree and actually sends out roots that
penetrate into the tree and take up nutrients. It is also capable for
growing on its own, producing its own food by photosynthesis.
There are two types of mistletoe. The European mistletoe (Viscum album)
is a green shrub with small, yellow flowers and white, sticky berries
which are considered poisonous. It commonly seen on apple trees, and
sometimes on oak trees. The rarer oak mistletoe was greatly venerated
by the ancient Celts and Germans and used as a ceremonial plant by
early Europeans. The mistletoe found in North America (Phoradendron flavescens) grows as a parasite on trees from New Jersey to Florida.