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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas symbolism: Mistletoe

If you really sit and think about some of the traditions we have then you will realize how random some of them seem.  Christmas is one of those traditional things that most people do not question because we often times get free stuff. This short series of articles will explain a few of the major traditions revolving around Christmas and why they are the way they are.

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Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?
The word mistletoe essentially means “poop on a stick” by some translations, but more accurately, I believe it to mean “magic stick”.  Mistletoe spreads like many other plants by sticking to birds, and it is pollinated by insects.  None of this gives much insight to kissing underneath it during Christmas. We will need to go back in time to find out more.
Like many of the traditions involving Christmas mistletoe traces its holiday significance to ancient Rome.  The story starts even further back and, oddly enough, in Norse mythology.  I'm not going to get into the details, but essentially Loki(Yes, the bad guy from The Avengers) tricked another god to use mistletoe to kill the god that made all nature.  After he died the dead gods mother cursed mistletoe to not be able to grow by itself and that is why it is parasitic.(S)
Mistletoe was viewed in ancient times as an aphrodisiac.  This does not mean that going outside and chewing on the twig will solve your ED issues.  Mistletoe in various regions is poisonous and can kill humans. In Europe some herbalist can brew a specific type into a tea and claim it has healing and arousal properties.
Its ability to remain green as the host tree lost its leaves mystified ancients.  There is another story that says a man was told to use mistletoe to travel to the afterlife to accomplish a task.  The original story could have been to warn people that this plant will kill you thus sending you to the afterlife. Instead it was revered.  It made its way into Saturnalia being a mystical plant with mystical properties.
In Saturnalia fertility and abundance were important. People were most likely farmers; farmers want an abundant harvest. Farmers also prefer to have large families to help tend the farm thus making fertility important. In true Roman decadence they would celebrate fertility with much more than kissing underneath the magical mistletoe. Mistletoe is also most noticeable in the winter making it fit with its significance the date of Christmas.

More on Christmas :

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