Mistletoe and Holly

the Christmas Season

Dec 20

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the Christmas Season
Mistletoe and Holly
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Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there."

~ Mistletoe Poem by Walter de la Mare (1873-1956)

The kissing under the mistletoe custom is first documented in writing back to at least the 1500s in Europe, and by the 1820s, reappears in American author Washington Irving's collection of “Christmas Eve" stories. In Irving’s day, each time a couple kissed under a mistletoe sprig, they removed one of the white berries. When the berries were all gone, so was the license to kiss.

Mistletoe and Holly

Of the many plant-related Christmas traditions, decking the halls with boughs of holly and kissing under the mistletoe have long histories.

Holly has long been associated with winter holidays. Early Europeans used holly as ornamentation during their winter solstice celebrations. The winter solstice, which occurs in late December in the northern hemisphere, is the longest night of the year and signified the gradual lengthening of days and coming spring.

In Norse mythology, holly was associated with Thor, god of thunder, and holly plants grown by the home were thought to prevent lightning strikes. Ancient Romans used holly as decor during Saturnalia, a festival dedicated to Saturn, god of agriculture and husbandry. Holly's symbolism of the new season made it an appropriate and colorful ornament for winter festivities. 

A fanciful story regarding the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe goes back to the Norse god Baldur — second son of Odin, god of truth and light — who was so beloved by the other gods that they sought to protect him from all the dangers of the world. His mother, the goddess Frigg, "took an oath from fire and water, iron and all metals, stones and earth, from trees, sicknesses and poisons, and from all four-footed beasts, birds and creeping things, that they would not hurt Baldur." And thus the beautiful god was deemed invincible. 

However, at a large gathering soon after, stones, arrows, and flame were all flung at Baldur to test his might. Nothing worked, and he walked away unscathed. Jealous of Baldur's new powers, the mischievous Loki set out to find the one thing on Earth that might be able to hurt him. He found that the goddess Frigg forgot to ask mistletoe — tiny and forgotten — not to harm her beloved son. In the end, a dart fashioned from the small plant was used to murder Baldur in front of all the other gods who loved him so dearly.

Devastated, Frigg's tears became the berries of the plant, and it was decreed that "mistletoe would never again be used as a weapon and that she would place a kiss on anyone who passed under it."

The kissing custom may date to at least the 1500s in Europe. Author Washington Irving referred to this custom in “Christmas Eve,” from his 1820 collection of essays and stories, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. In Irving’s day, each time a couple kissed under a mistletoe sprig, they removed one of the white berries. When the berries were all gone, so was the license to kiss.

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.

- Mistletoe Poem by Walter de la Mare (1873-1956)

For more on interesting facts about mistletoe, click the vintage couple under the mistletoe!

Mistletoe and Holly
Mistletoe and Holly

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The majority of dance descriptions referenced on this site have been taken from the

 

Scottish Country Dancing Dictionary or the

Scottish Country Dancing Database 

 

Snapshots of dance descriptions are provided as an overview only.  As updates may have occurred, please click the dance description to be forwarded to a printable dance description or one of the official reference sources.

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