There are many old stories involving mistletoes. Vikings believed that mistletoe could bring the dead back to life. One of their Gods. Balder had a dream he was going to die and his mother was frantic because he was god of the summer sun and if he dies the earth would die. She went to all the elements, animals and plants to ask them not to kill him. Because his mother did this, he was teased and has things thrown at him. However, Balder’s enemy Loki found that mistletoe did not have to obey Balder’s mothers request because it has no roots of its own and therefore did not count as a plant. He therefore made a poison dart with the berry and tricked Balder’s blind brother in to shooting him with it.
For three days the elements tried to bring him back to life, eventually Balder’s mothers tears changed the mistletoes berries from red to white and this raised him from the dead. People now kiss under the mistletoe to thank it for helping. Druids in Britain believed that mistletoe could perform miracles.
There were many different things they felt it could do such as making humans and animals fertile, healing disease and providing protection form witchcraft. They even had a special ceremony where they would cut the mistletoe down five days after the new moon appears following the winter solstice. They caught it in a white cloth so the ground did not contaminate it and then sacrificed two white bulls, said prayers and the priests would give out sprigs of mistletoe to the people to keep them safe from storms and evil spirits.
Kissing Under Berries
Mistletoe has been considered to symbolise sexuality because of the colour and consistency of the berry juice. It is also considered to be an aphrodisiac because it grows from the soul of the oak tree. This link to sexuality and the fact that it was felt to aid fertility may be why there is a tradition for kissing under it. It may also be from the Viking story of Balder and how his mother used mistletoe to raise him from the dead and people kissed under it to thank it. There is also a Roman festival where mistletoe was used as part of the celebrations.
If a man kisses a woman under mistletoe he should remove a berry and then when all of the berries are gone then no one can kiss under it any more. This is not done so much these days, probably because the plant is poisonous and removing berries may not be safe. There are many legends about kissing under mistletoe. Some say that couple who do it will be lucky and ones that do not will not be. Some say that unmarried women who do not get kissed will remain unmarried for another year.
Couples will get married and have a long happy life if they kiss under mistletoe. It was also believed that by placing a sprig of mistletoe under her pillow, an unmarried woman would dream about her prince charming. Burning mistletoe will also show whether a woman will have a good marriage – steady burning is good but fickle burning indicates she has chosen an unsuitable partner. There are ancient tales which tell of enemies making up under trees bearing mistletoe. They may drop their weapons and embrace agreeing to a truce until the next day. This could have led to the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.
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It is worth remembering that half a Christmas trees cut weight is water and so to keep it at its best you need to keep it well watered. If it has been outside and is being moved inside, then it will tend to dry out because of the increase in heat and so regular watering is extremely important.
There are many types of stands or containers but the traditional, reservoir type are the best because they keep the tree at its freshest. However, before putting it in the stand, cut the base, about half an inch should be enough, completely flat. This gets rid of the old dry bit on the bottom and will allow the tree to take up more water. Try not to buy a stand which is too small so you have to cut the tree to fit in it as this will reduce its ability to take up the water. Do not cut it in a point or angle because it will not take up water so well. Make sure the stand can hold enough water for your tree type. It should hold one quart of water for each inch of stem diameter.
Get the tree in to water as soon as possible as they can only take up water 6-8 hours after cutting, any longer and this ability will be reduced. Treat the cut surface with care as any damage will reduce the ability to take up water. Water the tree daily if necessary and check water levels regularly as once its dried out it will start to die.
If you do not have a stand, you can plunge the cut trunk in a bucket of cold water for a few days in a cool place and it should be fine. Even when you put it inside keep it away from heat such as sunlight, heaters or fires because it will take up more water and is also more likely to drop needles or die off.
When choosing Christmas Lights for the tree try to get small ones which do not produce too much heat as this could dry out the tree. Turn them off when you are out or in bed and make sure you check them before placing on the tree.
If you have chosen a Christmas tree with roots then there are a few other things to think about. Make sure that you get a tree which adapts well to the climate of where you live. Keep the tree sheltered from freezing temperatures but do not allow it to get too hot either. It will need plenty of water. If you have the tree in the house then wrap the root ball to protect it, keep it well watered and when putting it outside make sure you place in an outdoor shed for a while first so it gets used to the climate change. When planing out, keep the root ball solid and stake it so that it doesn’t blow over.
The roots can be very heavy and so rooted trees are much more difficult to manoeuvre than trees without roots.
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Christmas trees can be tricky things to buy, which is why many people opt for having artificial ones. However, there are some ways to help ensure that the tree you choose is a good one.
Firstly make sure that you measure the space where you intend to put the tree for both height and width. It can be very hard to judge whether what you are buying is the right size when there are so many trees, all different sizes, to choose from. Also make sure that you will be able to get that size of tree back home and through the door. You do not want to lose all of the needles before it is even in place.
Go to a place which is well-lit so it is easy to see the trees but make sure that they store the trees in a shaded area so that they are not drying out too quickly. Ask when the trees arrived because the longer they have been there the more likely it will drop its needles or die before the holiday season is over. You can test for freshness of a Fir tree yourself by breaking a needle, It should snap if it is fresh. A pine tree needles are much softer and will not break unless they are dry, which would indicate they were old. If it is missing lots of needles, has browning leaves and wrinkled bark and has a musty odor then it is likely to be old and drying out. If you are not sure about the tree then do not buy it and you may even have to go elsewhere if none look good.
Some species are better than others in certain climates. Think about where you will be keeping it and how hot it might be. Then match your conditions to the tree species that you pick and what that species prefers. If you do not know what species to get then look at the NCTA website for information. They will give information about all the species available in your area.
It can seem like quite a hassle, having to remember all of these things when selecting a tree. However, it can be a great fun family activity and everyone can look out for one thing. You can research together the type of tree and size and then all look out for signs of a healthy tree and even find out about where to recycle it while you are there.
Mistletoe is a tradition for Christmas in many countries. It is also traditional to kiss underneath it but many people do not know what started this tradition and why we do it.
The word mistletoe was derived form anglo-saxon words. The word mistel meant dung and tan meant twig. It is felt this was because often birds would leave droppings on a branch which contained the mistletoe seeds. In ancient times people thought that the bird landing on the branch caused the plant to grow rather than understanding about the spread of seeds.
In France an ancient story says that mistletoe was found growing on the tree which was used to make the cross of Christ which is why it was denied a place to live and had to be a parasite, living on other trees.
Characteristics of Mistletoe
Mistletoe grows on hardwood tress, things like oak or apple and is a parasite. This means that it needs the tree to survive and it actually roots in to the bark and takes the trees nutrients. It can damage the tree, perhaps making the branches grow funny but it does not normally kill it because it would die if the tree did.
The mistletoe does produce its own food using photosynthesis like other plants and trees. However, is it most common for it to attach itself to another plant or tree and can even be found growing on top of another mistletoe plant.
The plant keeps its green leaves all year long and flowers in many colors, depending on the variety. It can also have berries that are either red or white.
The plant itself and the berries are poisonous. A small amount can cause stomach ache or upset stomach and too much can kill. It is dangerous to animals as well as people so keeps pets as well as small children well away.
Spreading the seed
The berries that mistletoe grows in the winter, tend to be eaten by birds. The birds perch on branches and the seed comes out through their droppings and then sprout roots into the bark. The birds also wipe their beaks on the branches to rub off the sticky berry juice and this can also spread seeds. It just takes six weeks for the plants to start to grow.
There can be a big difference between different types of Christmas trees. Some are not available in some areas and so where you live may be a factor in determining the types that you get to choose from. For example Noble or Douglas firs are most popular in the Pacific Northwest whereas in North Carolina and Fraser Fir are more common. However if you order by mail order then you can pretty much choose whatever you like.
Colorado Blue Spruce
This is one of the most popular trees among people who want living Christmas trees. The color can be blue but is more likely to be silver or gray. It grows in a conical shape naturally and so there is little need for pruning it. It tends to grow in Southern Canada and Northern USA but it can usually be found in most nurseries or retail tree lots.
The Noble Fir has strong branches and stays fresh for a long time. The needles can look silvery although they are blue/green in color. It can be used to make wreaths and other decorations because the branches are so strong.
This is one of the most popular Christmas tree in the USA. It tends to be grown in the Pacific Northwest and is shipped all over the country and even to Asia. It has a pyramid shape and smells sweet.
This is a conical shaped tree which tends to drop needles easily so needs to be keep very well watered. It is dark green in color.
This tree has short soft needles and stout woody branches and is conical in shape. It is good for holding ornaments but the dark green needles can turn yellow in late fall which means it needs a tree colorant to keep it green. It is popular though and was originally the main tree for offer in the south east USA.
Eastern White Pine
This tree has a really nice cone shape and soft needles. It is blue or silvery green in color but the branches are not that strong so heavy ornaments do not work that well. The tree can turn yellow if it is old and so tree colorants may need to be used. It does not have much of a smell and therefore is less likely to cause an allergic reaction.
This tree is commonly found along the east coast of south and south west areas of USA. It tends to be in cut-your-own places and has a lovely smell. It is tall and thin and and is pale green or gray green.
The color can vary quite a bit from bright green to dark green and even sometimes a blue green color. The branches are strong so great for hanging heavy decorations and the needles do not drop very much. It stays fresh for a long time. It also has a nice conical shape.
Eastern Red Cedar
This tree can dry out quickly which is why it tends to be sold at cut-your-own farms. It has a pretty cone shape and the colour varies from dark green to purple.
This is a strong tree which can hold heavy decorations and it grown in North Carolina. Its strength means that the branches are often used to make wreaths and other decorations. It keeps its needles well and they are dark green or even blueish on the top and silvery underneath. It has a nice smell and it is for this reason as well as the nice color which makes it one of the most popular trees.
This tree is not fragrant and is often used as an ornamental landscape plant in England and South East USA. However, it has recently become more popular as a Christmas tree in this area of the USA. It is dark-green to gray in color and is a cone shape.
This tree is a pyramid shape and dark green. The needles tend to stay on the tree for a very long time and it has a nice smell. It is very popular in Canada as well as North USA.
There are many Christmas traditions. Some families have their own ways of celebrating, particular food they like to eat, ways they like to decorate, songs they like to sing etc. Many of the traditions that we tend to follow date back a long way but some may be much more modern than we may realize.
Christmas DecorationsEvergreens and garlands were hung by ancient Egyptians , Chinese and Hebrews as they were thought to represent eternal life. In Europe pagans tended to worship evergreen trees, In medieval times Germans used fir trees as a representation of the Tree of Paradise in the Adam and Eve story when they were doing plays about it. The trees were decorated. In Germany the use of trees became popular with settlers from Germany introducing them to America in the 17th century. People also decorate with mistletoe, holly and ivy which are very traditional and can be gathered for free. In the 1890’s tree lights were used by decorators and the tradition caught on and nowadays no trees are without lights.
Christmas ActivitiesThese days having lights on the outside of houses an din trees is very much part of the Christmas tradition. Along with decorating Christmas trees and the insides of our houses, some people like to compete with who can have the best or the most lights on their house. This is a modern tradition but many activity stem from much further back. Many churches and schools re-enact the nativity to remind everyone of what they are actually celebrating. This was a custom started by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223 to make the story available to all. Many people also celebrate the season by singing traditional carols, this was a tradition where people would visit their neighbors and knock on their door and sing to them. Normally a group of people would go out but this tradition has .
Christmas FoodThere are many traditional foods and these will be different depending on which country you live in and maybe even which part of a country you live in. Some families have traditions of their own or specific ways of cooking the foods. In USA it is traditional to eat green beans soaked in mushrooms soup, figgy pudding and fruitcake. Also it has the foods of the season such a turkey, squashes and potatoes and other foods which were traditionally eaten in winter festivals such as roasted meats and baked goods. Many of these baked goods are shaped to represent traditional Christmas things such as cookies like stars or trees and chocolate cakes that look like yule logs. Some cookies are even hung on the Christmas tree as are chocolates in Christmas themed shapes.Many people overeat at this time of the year.
Many people think that the history of Christmas is simply all about the birth of Christ, the presents stemming form the gifts that he was given. However, it dates back much further and many of the traditions stem from very varied places.Europeans used to celebrate the Winter Solstice which is the longest night. They would celebrate the rebirth of the sun as the nights got shorter again and they would kill livestock which would not survive through the winter and feast on them from late December to early January.
In Scandinavia the Norse people celebrated Yuletide where they would burnt giant log and feat until it burnt out.
In Rome, the festival of Saturnalia was celebrated from 17th to 24th December and there was feasting, gambling and the giving of gifts. Also roles were not upheld meaning slaves could disobey their masters and children did not need to do as they were told by their parents. There were also other festivals that occurred around this time as well.During the fourth century Christians decided that they needed a celebration around the solstice to compete with the pagan ones. Church leaders therefore decided on December 25th for the Feast of the Nativity and it increased in popularity and importance over the following years although Easter was still seen as more significant.
In the middle ages Christmas was a mix of feasting and drinking as well as caroling for money. Behavior tended to be riotous and so religious puritans began to show their disapproval. They felt that it was blasphemous to behave in such a manner while celebrating Christ and so Oliver Cromwell canceled it in 1645. Soldiers even had to check on people to make sure that they were not cooking meat. A similar viewpoint was taken by Puritan sin America and Yuletide was banned in Boston for 32 years.By the late 18th century Christmas was celebrated again in much the manner it is today. Washington Irving from New York, write many Christmas stories which have laid the way for many of the traditions that are celebrated today. Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree to Britain and a popular engraving of his family in front of it led to the tradition being taken up all over the country.
By the 20th century Christmas was a much more commercial event with presents tending to be the main focus.
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For many people the main focus of Christmas is the gifts. Children are excited by the prospect of receiving presents and the adults spend a long time shopping for the right thing and hunting for bargains all through the year.
Parents are also happy when they receive their Christmas Gifts, like moms for an example.
Gift giving does seem to stem from the belief that gifts were presented to Christ just after he was born. Some Churches still celebrate the day that the magi arrived with gift giving rather than exchanging gifts on December 25th which is the usual custom.
Romans tended to trade gifts during Saturnalia and French nuns distributed gifts to the poor on St Nicholas Eve in the 13th century. But it was not until the 18th century that gift giving started to become more common.
Gifts were supposed to be a representation of Gods gift of Christ to mankind or the gifts that were given to the baby. However, in the 18th century stores started advertising Christmas gifts in newspapers. Within 20 years Santa Claus appeared everywhere and in 1867 Macy’s stayed open until midnight on Christmas Eve so that everyone had time to do all of their gift buying.
These days stores start to bring out their Christmas things in September and decorate in October. They really want to cash in with what has become a massive commercial operation. Many stores rely on Christmas to bring in more sales than any other time of the year which is why they start to get everything in the shops so early. It means that almost a quarter of the year has them focusing on getting consumers to buy Christmas gifts.
Some people like this as it means that they can buy early and spread the expense but others find it very annoying. It can mean that you end up spending more money as you buy something early to later find something much better that you buy as well.
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Christmas cards are things that most people send these days. However, although many people know that they started in Victorian times, they do not know the full history behind them.
In the middle ages there were prints produced with Christmas religious pictures, done by wood engravers. These were produced in Europe but obviously rather expensive. The first proper Christmas and New Years cards were thought to be printed in London, England in 1843.
The very first Christmas card was designed by John Callcott Horsley. He was asked by a friend, Sir Henry Cole, to design them as he thought it would be a good idea to send greetings at Christmas to friends. Horsely was a narrative painter and produced some designs for his friend who was the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. So in 1943 1,000 cards were printed in London by Jobbins of Warwick Court and were then each hand coloured and they were then published.
Each card was priced at one shilling and was lithographed on to card. There was some trellis design on it as well as a picture in the centre of a family party and panels each side representing feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. The family party was a jolly scene of three generations of a family all drinking wine and having a good time. The message on the card read ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you’.
This small order of 1,000 cards led to other picture-makers producing their own cards and so the idea started to catch on. However, after a while it lessened in popularity. In 1866 Charles Goodall took up the idea. He was in the business of mass producing picture cards and so he decided to expand and also produce Christmas cards. His first designs were holly, mistletoe and robins and there were four different designs in each set of cards. The following year he used the same artist to produce a different set of cards. This lead to an increase in popularity of the Christmas card.
The growth in the popularity meant that there was not only extra work for artists and writers but also lithographers and printers. The growth led to a London company offering a five hundred guinea prize to the artist that could come up with the best Christmas card design. This was in 1880 and famous artists such as Thomas Crane and Kate Greenaway entered the contest. Writers also competed to find the best words to put into the cards and some of the cards produced at this time were simply outstanding in design and wording.
The original Christmas card was reproduced in 1881 and the reissued in 1955. Copies of the 1955 card are still around today.
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