Monday, December 16, 2013

Word of the Week - Mistletoe

Christmas throughout Christendom, 1873

I thought it would be fun to examine some Christmas traditions this week and next. So while this isn't exactly etymology, it's still looking at origins. ;-)

The legend of mistletoe goes all the way back to Norse mythology. Baldr, grandson of Thor, had a troubling dream in which all living things were trying to kill him. His wife and mother saw how troubled he was by this and so went out to procure promises from all living things that they would not injure their beloved Baldr. They got these promises from everything from oak trees to cows...but not from the mistletoe. Some stories say they overlooked it, others that it seemed too young to give such promises. Whatever their reasoning, they failed to get its word--and then an arrow made of its stem pierced Baldr and killed him.

Mistletoe, therefore, became a reminder to remember and treasure what one loves, hence why couple kiss under it.

In Celtic traditions, mistletoe was considered a sacred plant, symbolic of fertility. The reasoning actually gets a bit explicit, but suffice it to say that this culture also held it as holy, and when Christianity spread, they integrated it into the Christmas tradition.

Kissing under mistletoe has been around for longer than we can accurately say, referenced in some European writings as early as the 17th century. The first English mention of it seems to be in the 1820s, though the mention implies it's a longstanding tradition.

Whatever its origins, it's always been a popular one, with young couples quite eager to lure a special someone under the berries and greens. And I daresay few care too much about why they're doing it, LOL.

Hope everyone is enjoying the Christmas season!

1 comment:

  1. Fun! Have been curious, and you have satisfied, :)

    ReplyDelete