A staple of seasonal celebrations and, naturally, Fleurs de Villes holiday festivities, mistletoe has become a fun part of festive décor. But what is its significance and how did that come about?
From “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” sung by a 13-year-old Jimmy Boyd hitting number one on the Billboard charts in December, 1952, to Justin Bieber’s catchy 2011 hit “Mistletoe,” to Harry Potter’s famous first kiss, mistletoe is referenced countless times in popular culture and holiday lore. But its history goes all the way back to ancient Greece.
Since mistletoe retains its greenery all through winter and blooms even through the darkest days of the season, it was valued as a symbol of eternal life. In ancient Greece, it was also considered a symbol of male fertility, and Aeneas, the Trojan hero, carried mistletoe to protect himself on his journey to the underworld to ensure his return. Mistletoe also symbolized peace, love and understanding to the Romans, who hung it over their doorways. Greco-Roman mythology also shows that Diana, goddess of the moon, wore a mistletoe crown as an emblem of fertility and immortality. The Celtic Druids, for their part, considered it a sacred plant with great medicinal and mythical powers. Norse mythology also became the basis of the custom of calling a truce if two enemies found themselves under mistletoe.
The act of kissing under the mistletoe as a Christmas tradition started in England in the 1700s among the servant class. By the reign of Queen Victoria in the 1800s, it was firmly established in both England and the United States. The lore dictates that if two kiss under mistletoe, they shall be wed, and feuding spouses who kiss under it will reconcile.
British writer Charles Dickens popularized the idea of stealing a kiss if caught under the mistletoe in 1837s Pickwick Papers, where he describes a holiday game where young ladies who “screamed and struggled and ran into the corners,” eventually submitting “to be kissed with a good grace;” refusing to was seen as bad luck. The American writer Washington Irving brought the tradition to America, writing about it in the best-selling The Sketch Book, and adding to the game by instructing men to pluck the white berries off one by one with a kiss, stopping only when they were all gone.
Mistletoe has many species–Australia, for instance, has 85. By contrast, there’s only one native to the British Isles, but this is the one we see around the holidays with the waxy, white berries and small oval-shaped leaves. Look for it on the Fleurs de Villes NOËL floral trails in Toronto, Seattle and Vancouver!