From the earliest times mistletoe has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European folklore. Kissing under the mistletoe is a well-known holiday tradition, but this little plant’s history as a symbolic herb dates back thousands of years. Many ancient cultures prized mistletoe for its healing properties. The plant’s romantic overtones most likely started with the Celtic Druids. Because mistletoe could blossom even during the frozen winter, the Druids came to view it as a sacred symbol of vivacity, and they administered it to humans and animals alike in the hope of restoring fertility.
‘Mistletoe is rare and when found it was 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 prepared a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and brought up two white bulls, whose horns were bound for the first time on this occasion. A Bard arrayed in white vestments climbed the tree and, with a golden sickle, cut down the mistletoe, which was caught in a white cloak. They finally killed the victims, praying to a god to render his gifts propitious to those on whom he bestowed it. They believed that mistletoe given in drink imparted fertility to any animal that was barren and that it was an antidote to all poisons.’
Mistletoe was harvested on the sixth day after the new moon following autumn, when the leaves had fallen from the trees making it easier to find and access. This could explain its significance as part of Christmas celebrations and customs that exist today in western culture.
It was also hung up in homes and stables to protect from the mischief of fairies and evil. The superstitions surrounding mistletoe developed over time and it later became associated with love, friendship, goodwill and happiness.
It was thought that love would always reside in a house that hung mistletoe. These old traditions have now evolved into the practice of kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas.