Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?
Mistletoe has long been ascribed with mystical powers in Ireland, far stronger than just a spark of romance after a brief kiss.
Since Victorian times, it has been a cherished Christmas decoration. Kissing under the mistletoe is as much an Irish Christmas tradition as it is anywhere else. But for centuries before that custom came into practice, this custom was actually banned in Christian Ireland...anything held so dear by the "pagans" (Druids) was thought to be evil.
It is actually a parasitic plant, found high in the trees. It doesn't take root in the ground, but in the branches of tree itself. Although it gets all its nutrients by taking them from the tree, its presence keeps the tree green throughout the winter.
Like Christmas holly
, mistletoe is an evergreen plant. And all evergreen plants held a very special place in the hearts of the ancient Celtic people. While all the deciduous trees' leaves were drying up and falling away, the evergreen leaves branches of these plants kept the landscape green and beautiful.
Holly, mistletoe, pine and fir trees were quite logically celebrated in the winter because they bring color to a colorless landscape...and they remind us that even though the daylight is scarce and everywhere it is cold and gray, springtime is just around the corner.
Because of the ancient writings of Pliny the Elder we know of the ancient rituals in which Druid priests celebrated the mistletoe plant. After the Winter Solstice, the Druid priests gathered the mistletoe in a special ceremony that lasted five days after the new moon.
They would venture into the forests with a golden sickle to cut the mistletoe down from the Oak trees (which they also held in sacred honor). The priests separated the branches and distributed sprigs of mistletoe among the people to protect them from evil.
The Druids believed plants and trees all had a soul. So with mistletoe taking root in the boughs of the trees and keeping them green through the long, cold winter, the Druids believed the mistletoe was holding the soul of the tree.
Ancient Celts also believed the mistletoe plant held miraculous healing powers. In fact, the word "mistletoe" in Celtic means "All-Heal". The Celts took it on further and came to believe the mistletoe have strongly benevolent powers. They believed it could heal the sick, serve as an antidote for poison, make any living creature more fertile, ward off evil, and bring good luck and many blessings.
So how did the custom of kissing
under the mistletoe originate?
The Celtic people believed the power of the mistletoe was so strong that it could actually cause mortal enemies to lay down their arms and forge a truce. It is this superstition that spawned the custom of hanging mistletoe over doorways at Christmastime as a symbol of "Peace, and Good Will" to all who pass through the door. This part of the mythology surrounding mistletoe originated in Scandinavia, from an old Norse myth, and was carried throughout Northern Europe to reach the Celtic lands.
To learn more about the fascinating history of mistletoe in the Druid religion and Norse mythology, read The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer. Chapter 65 is entitled "Balder and the Mistletoe" and is full of all the fascinating details.
For more about the history and symbolism of mistletoe, consult our other resources:
"Celtic Mythology and Kissing Under the Mistletoe" : About.com's David Beaulieu
Tartans.com : "The Celtic Origins of Mistletoe"
Christian Resource Centre: Symbols of Christmas : "Mistletoe, a Sacred Plant in the Pagan Religion of the Druids"
Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs by Francis X. Weiser
Click here for more Irish Christmas Resources
Click here to learn about the symbolism of the Christmas Holly
Click here to learn about the symbolism of the Candle in the Window
Click here to return to an Irish Christmas on Fantasy-Ireland.com
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