A Mistletoe plant usually lives for eight to ten years, although some have been reported to have survived for more than one hundred years. The longer the Mistletoe is attached, the more the host tree weakens and declines in health. Mistletoe is a aerial parasitic plant that grows high in the boughs of trees. The Mistletoe does not have roots and is dependent on its host for survival.
Mistletoe berries are very poisonous so make sure young children or pets do not eat the berries if you use the plant as a decoration for Christmas festivities. Birds seem to eat the berries without any ill effect and the seeds are spread from tree to tree in this way.
The hanging of mistletoe is considered very magical, also known as "Golden Bough," It is thought to have great healing power and "gave men access to the underworld." The Greeks and other cultures thought of the living plant as the genitalia of the God Zeus or similar deity.
The Mistletoe and Holly have phallic significance in that the Mistletoe has white berries which represent the divine semen of the Gods, while the Holly has red berries which represent the sacred menstrual blood of the Goddesses. The custom of kissing under the Mistletoe is just a shadow of a memory that harks back to the times of sexual orgies that accompanied the rites of the Oak God
Placing mistletoe underneath the pillow or hanging from the headboard is said to give restful sleep and beautiful dreams. Burning mistletoe is believed to banish evil spirits.
The ancients believed that by wearing mistletoe around the neck they would become invisible to enemies. Mistletoe was also placed in the cradle to protect children from being stolen by faeries and replaced with changelings. For good luck whilst hunting men would carry mistletoe. Women would carry mistletoe to aid conception.
In Norse mythology, Frigga, goddess of love, wanted to protect her son Balder. She made everything connected to the four elements - air, fire, water and earth - promise not to harm him. However, the trickster god Loki made an arrow from mistletoe, which was thought to live between the elements, and gave it to the blind god Hoder, who unintentionally shot Baldur through the heart.
In the legend, Frigga's tears of grief became the white berries on the mistletoe. Balder was eventually restored to life and Frigga turned mistletoe into a symbol of love, promising to kiss anyone who passes under it.
Another possibly origin for the tradition comes from the druids, who considered mistletoe sacred and associated it with fertility, protection and healing. The juice of the white berries was said to be the sperm of the gods. Mistletoe berries appear at around the time of the midwinter solstice, and are associated with that festival. The plant was harvested carefully, with golden knives and without being allowed to touch the ground. It was hung in doorways of homes to grant its blessings to those who lived there, and fruitfulness to those who kissed under it.
The ancient Greeks and Romans also thought mistletoe had supernatural properties. In Virgil's Aeneid, mistletoe is compared with the Golden Bough - a sacred mythological tree that had powers over life and death.
After Celtic Pagans were converted to Christianity, Catholic bishops, with one exception, didn’t allow the mistletoe to be used in churches because it was one of the major symbols of Paganism. Before the Reformation, a priest at the Cathedral of York brought a bundle of mistletoe into the sanctuary each year during Christmastide and put it on the altar as symbolic of Jesus being the Divine Healer of nations.
The English used mistletoe as a Christmas decoration for their homes. In Medieval times, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings and put over houses and barn doors to repel evil spirits. People believed the plant could extinguish flames. Although much of the Pagan symbolism was forgotten, the plant represented good will, happiness, good fortune and friendship.
Kissing under the mistletoe was associated with the Roman festival of Saturnalia and ancient marriage ceremonies. The plant was believed to bestow fertility and have life-giving power. In Scandinavia, mistletoe was a plant of peace under which enemies could declare truces and quarrelling spouses can kiss, making peace.