Christmas Traditions - Mistletoe
Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens or Viscum album) is a parasitic plant that grows on trees, particularly hardwood trees like oak. As mistletoe grows on a tree it uses its roots to invade a tree's bark, which allows mistletoe to absorb the tree's nutrients. Sometimes, mistletoe can harm a tree and cause deformities in a tree's branches.
Mistletoe produces its own food by photosynthesis, and is able to live on its own, although it is mostly found in trees.
Mistletoe is easy to spot in the winter because its leaves stay green all year long. In the United States, it grows in tropical and subtropical regions. Mistletoe has pointy, green, leathery leaves, with waxy berries that are either red or white. The flowers can be a wide variety of colors, from bright red to yellow to green.
Ingesting mistletoe can cause severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, and in some cases can be fatal. If you have mistletoe in your house this holiday season, be sure that it is in a place where children and pets won't be able to get to it.
Mistletoe was used by Druid priests 200 years before the birth of Christ in their winter celebrations. They revered the plant since it had no roots yet remained green during the cold months of winter.
The ancient Celtics believed mistletoe to have magical healing powers and used it as an antidote for poison, infertility, and to ward of evil spirits. The plant was also seen as a symbol of peace, and it is said that among Romans, enemies who met under mistletoe would lay down their weapons and embrace.
Scandinavians associated the plant with Frigga, their goddess of love, and it may be from this that we derive the custom of kissing under the mistletoe. Those who kissed under the mistletoe had the promise of happiness and good luck in the following year.
The Christmas holiday has assimilated a wide range of customs and traditions from many cultures, and mistletoe is one of them. For example, one French tradition holds that the reason mistletoe is poisonous is because it was growing on a tree that was used to make the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. Because of this, it was cursed and denied a place to live and grow on Earth, forever to be a parasite.
I personally don't like to decorate with Mistletoe, but I do find the various traditions and lore surrounding the plant to be fascinating.
Information gleaned from www.allthingschristmas.com and howstuffworks.com.