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Dec 20

The Christmas Season

Holiday Dress
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Stealing a Kiss
J.C. Leydendecker
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"Oh, the mistletoe bough!"

~ The Mistletoe Bough, 1830 ballad

Dressing for the holidays includes seasonal colours in clothing, but also in the traditional decking of the halls, with boughs of holly and with mistletoe, often in the form of a "kissing-bough." The plant’s romantic overtones are thought to date from the 1st century Druids. Because mistletoe could blossom even during the frozen winter, it was viewed as a sacred symbol of new life and administered medicinally to humans and animals alike in the hope of restoring fertility. Mistletoe also figures in a Scandinavian legend of Balder, god of Peace, who was slain with an arrow made from mistletoe. He was restored to life by his God-parents Odin and Frigga, and mistletoe was then given into the keeping of the goddess of Love who ordained that everyone who passed under it should receive a kiss, to show that the branch had become an emblem of love, and not of hate.

Dressing for the holidays can often include not only seasonal colours for one's clothing, but traditional decorations, including decking the halls, not only with boughs of holly, but often with the mistletoe herb, in the form of a "kissing-bough."

 

Kissing under sprigs of mistletoe is a well-known holiday tradition, but this 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 of the 1st century A.D. 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’s associations with fertility and vitality continued through the Middle Ages, and by the 18th century it had become widely incorporated into Christmas celebrations.  As part of the early custom, men were allowed to steal a kiss from any woman caught standing under the mistletoe, and refusing was viewed as bad luck. 

This tartan, by designer Carol A.L. Martin, employs the traditional red and green on a snowy background for a Christmas tartan of holiday elegance.

The story, "The Legend of the Mistletoe Bough,"  tells the sad tale of a newlywed bride who accidentally locks herself in an old oak trunk while playing hide-and-seek with members of her wedding party, who then spend a long night searching for her in vain.  

 

From tragic story to traditional Christmas song, this 1830 ballad begins:

THE MISTLETOE BOUGH

The mistletoe hung in the castle hall,
The holly branch shone on the old oak wall;
And the baron's retainers were blithe and gay,
And keeping their Christmas holiday.


The baron beheld with a father's pride
His beautiful child, young Lovell's bride;
While she with her bright eyes seemed to be
The star of the goodly company

Oh, the mistletoe bough.
Oh, the mistletoe bough.

For the rest of the song, click the cheerier picture of Robin Hood stealing a kiss under a mistletoe bough, by J.C. Leydendecker, from the Dec 23, 1933 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.