This bushy evergreen with white berries has been a part of our collective imagination since the time of the Druids, who believed it held aphrodisiac and healing properties. If found growing on a sacred oak, they would collect it with great ceremony then utilize it during their Winter Solstice celebrations, which included the sacrifice of cattle, feasts (thank you, cow) drink and rowdiness.
The Romans believed mistletoe was the product of lightening, a gift from the gods, since it suddenly appeared out of nowhere. In the frozen north, Norse lore holds that the goddess Frigga so loved her son Baldur that she extracted a promise from all the vegetation and inanimate objects around him that they would never harm Baldur, but she forgot to ask the mistletoe. The prankster god Loki discovered this and poisoned Baldur. But not to worry, Baldur was soon resurrected from the dead.
Meanwhile the Anglo-Saxons had also noted this bushy green on their slumbering apple trees and the thrush seen on them before the growth appeared. Practical, agrarian folk, they put two and two together and call it mistletoe, mistle meaning dung, and tan meaning twig. Thus calling it “dung on twigs.” (Sort of takes the romance out of it, huh?)
But fear not, the romantic Celts are on the move, their swords and Druid lore in hand. Time passes and these romantic, music-loving warriors sing of fairies and love. More time passes and now they’re Christian…who hang the plentiful mistletoe and ivy all over their homes as they celebrate the Winter Solstice, which their 2d century pope doesn’t think right. So he worries and one night dreams Christmas must be on December 25th, the period of pagan Winter Solstice celebrations.
But old habits die hard in the face of hardship and the mistletoe is pretty and plentiful. Add a bit here and there and even the poorest can decorate their homes like the rich. Better yet, everyone knows mistletoe translates to “all heal,” and brings luck since it’s the habitat of tree fairies, (whom you do not want to tick off.)
Hence the tradition goes on and the berry-loaded mistletoe continues to be hung in doorways at Christmas. Soon randy lads who find comely lasses beneath the bushy green boughs can remove a berry and steal a kiss without repercussions. Sadly, when the berries are gone, so too are the free kisses.
So, go hang your mistletoe, knowing you’re not only making your home a feast for the eyes and promoting love, but you’re also providing warm shelter for the tree fairies, who in turn will protect your home from innumerable malicious spirits.
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