Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Some more holiday trivia

In honor of the holiday, I thought I'd post some of the origins of common Christmas items.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant (kind of gross when you think about it) that grows on oak and other non-evergreen trees. Although other greenery was also used in pagan festivals, mistletoe was actually worshipped.

Both Druids and Romans considered the plant sacred, as a healing plant and a charm against evil. Mistletoe was thought to be the connection between earth and the heavens, because it grew without roots, as if by magic. Mistletoe was also considered a symbol of peace; warring soldiers who found themselves under mistletoe quickly put down their weapons and made a temporary truce. In a related custom, ancient Britons hung mistletoe in their doorways to keep evil away. Those who entered the house safely were given a welcome kiss. While the custom of kissing under the mistletoe lost popularity in most other countries, it remained popular in England and the United States.


In ancient times holly was thought to be magical because of its shiny leaves and its ability to bear fruit in winter. Some believed it contained a syrup that cured coughs; others hung it over their beds to produce good dreams. Holly was a popular Saturnalia gift among the Romans. The Romans later brought holly to England, where it was also considered sacred. In medieval times, holly, along with ivy, became the subject of many Christmas songs. Some of these songs gave the holly and ivy sexual identities (holly is male, ivy female), while other, more religious songs and poems portray the holly berry as a symbol of Christ.

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