Like most Pagans households I have visited, our house is a mixture of Christmas and Yule imagery. We thought of making a merged holiday name, but all we could come up with was 'Chrule' and that didn't sound appropriate, regardless of who threatens to descend on us for Turkey and Stuffing...
We have a Christmas Tree, even though the Fir Tree is a Christian symbol that the Monk Boniface used to replace the Oak Tree that used to be honored by Druids in ages past.
We will be celebrating Yule on Friday, and Christmas on Sunday. Undoubtedly we'll sing a few verses of "Walking in a Wiccan Wonderland', 'Good King Wenceslas', and more than likely 'The Hannukah Song' by Adam Sandler. In fact my favorite seasonal song is 'A Faery Tale of New York' by the Pogues, which starts out 'It was Christmas eve babe, in the drunk tank...'
The Spousal unit hung up mistletoe by the door last night. I had to think for a moment about which particular religion we were stealing that from...
Since it involves a public show of affection, I was fairly sure it wasn't Christian, and it turns out I was right. Mistletoe has been revered amongst pagan religions for thousands of years.
The Roman Historian Pliny the Elder wrote in the first century AD:
"Here we must mention the reverence felt for this plant by the Gauls. The Druids -- for thusly are their priests named - hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree that bears it, as long as that tree be an oak.... Mistletoe is very rarely encountered; but when they do find some, they gather it, in a solemn ritual....
"After preparing for a sacrifice and a feast under the oak, they hail the mistletoe as a cure-all and bring two white bulls there, whose horns have never been bound before. A priest dressed in a white robe climbs the oak and with a golden sickle cuts the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then they sacrifice the victims, begging the god, who gave them the mistletoe as a gift, to make it propitious for them. They believe that a potion prepared from mistletoe will make sterile animals fertile, and that the plant is an antidote for any poison. Such is the supernatural power with which peoples often invest even the most trifling things" ("Natural History," XVI, 249-251; translation by David Beaulieu).
Within Virgil's Aeneid, mistletoe bestows much power and is associated with high value and importance, yet is intricately related to the underworld, death, and supernatural power. Virgil wrote "Like mistletoe that in the woods in winter Thrives with yellowish berries and new leaves- A parasite on the trunk it twines around- So bright amid the dark green ilex shone The golden leafage, rustling in light wind. Aeneas at once briskly took hold of it And, though it clung, greedily broke it off, Then carried it to Sibyl's cave."
In Norse Mythology, Mistletoe is the only thing that can kill a God. Balder, the son of Odin, had a dream foretelling his death by his brother's hand, after which Frigg (his mother) attained protection for Balder from all things but mistletoe, excluding it because it was too young. Naturally, Loki tricked blind Hod (Balder's twin brother) into throwing a dart made of mistletoe at Balder, which kills him.
As for kissing under the mistletoe, this is first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites, probably because of a belief that mistletoe has power to bestow fertility.
Later in Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered the plant of peace, and it was under mistletoe that enemies would declare a truce, and warring spouses kiss and make-up.
Then in eighteenth-century England, at Christmas time , a young lady would stand under a 'Kissing Ball' of decorated mistletoe, and could not refuse to be kissed. A kiss under the Kissing Ball might mean romance, friendship or just goodwill.
In France, the custom linked to mistletoe was reserved for New Year's Day: "Au gui l'An neuf" (Mistletoe for the New Year).
So now you know. But please, if you are going to kiss someone under the mistletoe this year, make sure your breath is fresh and your teeth are in. That goes double for you Grandma! And no tongue...