Having a kiss under the mistletoe has long been a Christmas tradition. And like many traditions this practice harks back to pagan times.
The native British species, “Viscum album” grow on a variety of trees but most significantly the oak tree. To the Druids the mistletoe had a special significance. It could only be cut with a gold sickle and caught in a white robe – it could not fall to the ground and thus profaning it. In some traditions the sprig was placed above thresholds to deter evil spirits; in others it was administered to cattle as an elixir.
But what of kissing, where does this tradition come from? Well, according to pagan Nordic folklore, Loki – the evil god – tricked the blind god Hodr into killing Balder with a bow and arrow. All the trees and flowers, however, took an oath that they would not be party to such a plan. The mistletoe, however, being neither tree nor flower, didn’t swear the oath and it was from the stem of the mistletoe that Loki made his arrow shaft. And to this day to kiss under the mistletoe is to cock a snook at the evil Loki.
The Yule log was first recorded as long ago as the 1100’s. Most likely the Yule log is of pagan origin. In some traditions the log is decorated with entwining holly and ivy supposedly representing the male and female. The log itself can be from a variety of trees but the oak is the most commonly associated tree. Providing both warmth and light the Yule log was seen as beneficent presence in the household. The name itself “Yule” is taking from the Nordic for a log or possibly the ancient term for the Yew.
The Yew tree has strong associations with paganism and Christianity. Long considered as a deterrent to witches, the yew was planted in Church yards to ward off evil spirits. The tree can live to an incredible age – up 5,000 years and because of its longevity was considered to be immortal as well as beneficial – hence the expression “touch wood”. More practically, since every part of the yew is poisonous, farm animals wont come any near it and thus despoiling “God’s acre”.