This holiday season, you might find the concept of kissing under the mistletoe brought up in conversation (Although as far as I can tell, nobody really hangs up mistletoe anymore, much less kisses under it with the exception of these gag costumes)
Why mistletoe? After some research, the best reason I could find was due to the pagan traditions of mistletoe as a power symbol. A passage in Natural History by Pliny the Elder mentions a ritual involving mistletoe
We should not omit to mention the great admiration that the Gauls have for it as well. The druids – that is what they call their magicians – hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is a hard-timbered oak [robur]…. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon…. Hailing the moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things,’ they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and bring up two white bulls, whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion. A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then finally they kill the victims, praying to a god to render his gift propitious to those on whom he has bestowed it. They believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren and that it is an antidote to all poisons.
From druid sacrifices, mistletoe was incorporated into another tradition – the kissing bough. The kissing bough dates back to early England tradition (before the assimilation of heathen pagan traditions into the church) in which the top of a tree was hung upside down in a house as a symbol of heavenly blessings for the household. The importance of plants from tradition were then incorporated into Christian tradition with decoration of nativity scenes, carols, and boughs of holly and other evergreen decor.
During the Middle Ages, swags of evergreen branches called “holy boughs” were hung in the hallways to bring about the same blessings. After a period of decoration (and all fun) being frowned upon during the Puritan era in the 17th century, the Victorian era brought about a revival of Christmas decorating, and along with it the reincarnation of the kissing bough as the Victorian kissing ball.
Pucker up, mister
The Victorian kissing ball was a potato or apple that had sprigs of herbs, holly, evergreen, and mistletoe shoved into it until it was covered in greenery. Like many other flowers and plants of the time, mistletoe had secondary properties attributed to it at the time and was seen as a symbol of good luck and fertility. These kissing balls were hung in dance halls and young men and women would line up to kiss under the mistletoe.
Kiss me darling (Fox Photos/Getty Images)
I can’t help but notice the similarity between the natural form of a mistletoe growing in nature, and the Victorian kissing ball. Whether by sheer coincidence, or a subconscious desire to mimic nature, it seems fitting that the Victorian kissing ball has come around full circle.
Martha Stewart vs. Mother Nature. Who did it better? (Martha Stewart, Wikipedia)
Instructions for making your own Victorian Kissing Ball here
Making a Victorian kissing ball Yakima Herald
Or make a living Mistletoe Cactus Ball!