To steal a kiss

The use of mistletoe as a decoration has roots in both pagan and Christian traditions. In pagan customs, enemies who met under mistletoe were required to lay down their weapons and maintain a truce until the next day. The kiss component of this legend was the "kiss of peace". Among the Druids, mistletoe was used during Winter Solstice ceremonies as a symbol of the eventual return of the sun. As spring provides the renewal of life, mistletoe, as a symbol of spring to come, was considered a "fertility plant". To kiss under it was to bring fertility to the kissers.

In Christianity, mistletoe sprang into use in England during the middle ages. A ring of flexible wood (for example, willow) was entwined with evergreens of holly, bay, rosemary or yew. In the middle of this ring was placed a baby Jesus on a bed of moss. The rest of the ring was decorated with ribbons, nuts, fruits and mistletoe. In many ways, this ring resembled a wreath laid flat. This "Holly Bough" as it was called, was hung inside the front door and blessed by a priest. As guests visited the house, they were kissed under the Holly Bough as a sign of goodwill and all bad feelings were forgiven and forgotten.

When the Puritans (under Oliver Cromwell) banned the use of Christmas decorations during the 17th century, the Holly Bough nearly disappeared. However, the custom was maintained by rural farmers and villagers, who continued to hang the Holly Bough minus the baby Jesus. The custom of kissing under it also survived. Eventually mistletoe was solely used. During Queen Victoria's reign, every time a kiss was stolen under the mistletoe, one of its berries was removed. When all the berries were gone, no more kisses could be shared. How lucky that particular part of the mistletoe custom no longer exists!

As a Christmas decoration, mistletoe continues to be extremely popular. Hang it by the front door or from door frames. Add it to garland. Decorate the base of candle holders with it. Hide it in dresser drawers or under pillows as a "surprise kiss" to your partner. Or pin it to your lapel and receive kisses wherever you go!

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