The Christmas season is renowned for its traditions, from lighted trees to gorgeous holiday wreaths and poinsettias, to holly, ivy, and mistletoe…oh my! But how did mistletoe transform from a “cure all” plant to an object under which couples kiss at Christmas?
What is Mistletoe?
Nat King Cole sang about it: “Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright.”
Washington Irving wrote about it: “The Yule-clog and Christmas candle were regularly burnt, and the mistletoe with its white berries hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.”
Mistletoe is an evergreen plant that is characterized by its leathery leaves and red or white berries. There are over 1,300 species worldwide, with more than 30 in the continental US. This hemi-parasitic (partially parasitic) plant grows attached to or within the branches of a tree or shrub, mainly willow, apple, and conifer trees, taking nutrients and water from its host. Despite its parasitic nature, mistletoe is great for creating biodiversity. It serves as food for many animals, a source of pollen for bees, and a place for butterflies to nest.
From Sacred Healing Herb to Holiday Decor
Mistletoe has a long, widespread history throughout the world:
- It was once prized by Greeks and Romans for its healing properties, who used it to cure all manners of illnesses.
- While the story varies, in some Nordic mythology, it is said that the goddess Frigga’s tears turned into the white berries that grow on mistletoe, while others say she revived her son Baldur beneath a mistletoe tree. Either way, the myth implies that whoever stood beneath mistletoe deserved protection and a kiss.
- In the Middle Ages mistletoe was hung from the ceiling to ward off evil spirits.
- It has become a symbol of life, luck, and fertility.
But mistletoe is most commonly remembered as a plant to kiss under. This romantic connotation is believed to have developed during the 1st Century A.D. with the Celtic Druids, although it did not become part of the Christian celebration until 18th Century England.
Meet Me Under The Mistletoe
Traditionally, men are allowed to steal a kiss from any woman caught under it. (It’s bad luck to say no!) For each kiss, a single berry was plucked from the sprig. Once there were no more berries, there was no more kissing!
Mistletoe has a fun, playful history and because this evergreen plant grows even in frozen winter, it’s a beautiful green display to complete any home’s decor!
Bengert Greenhouses is here to help you finish preparing for the holiday season. If you have not got your Christmas wreaths, poinsettias, or flowers yet, please visit our West Seneca greenhouse today!