View Full Version : Lore of Christmas/Yule-time plants

December 4th, 2008, 03:43 AM
I just thought it was interesting! --


In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is called Cuitlaxochitl meaning "star flower." The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic medication. In both Chile and Peru, the plant became known as "Crown of the Andes".

The plants' association with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico, where legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday. The tale goes that the child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson "blossoms" sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan monks in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations.

In the United States, December 12th is National Poinsettia Day.


Poinsettias were first introduced to the United States in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett, amateur botanist and first ambassador to Mexico. He introduced the plant to the United States when he brought some cuttings to his plantation in Greenwood, South Carolina.

December 12 is National Poinsettia Day, an official day set aside to enjoy this symbol of holiday cheer. It was established upon the death of Mr. Poinsett to honor him and the plant he made famous. He died in 1851.

Poinsettias are native to Mexico, where they grow wild. The enchanting legend of the poinsettia dates back several centuries, to a Christmas Eve in Mexico when a little girl named Pepita had no gift to present to the Christ child. Her cousin Pedro urged her to give a humble gift. So, on her way to church she gathered some weeds she found along the road. As she approached the altar, a miracle happened: The weeds blossomed into brilliant flowers. Then they were called Flores de Noche Buena - Flowers of the Holy Night. Now they are called poinsettias.


...Surprisingly, the poinsettia is a new addition to Christmas traditions here in the United States (it’s not even 200 years old yet!). It is a native of Mexico and Central America and the red “flowers” are actually leaves. It was brought to the United States in the 1820s by Joel Robert Poinsett, the first ambassador to Mexico. Legend tells us that while in Mexico, he was so impressed by the beautiful plant that he had some brought to this home in South Carolina, where it flourished in his greenhouse. Mr. Poinsett is more famous for this flower than he is for being the first ambassador to Mexico!

Montezuma, the great Aztec King, was very fond of the poinsettia, which was known as “Cuetlaxochitle” and he would have them brought in to his home (which is now Mexico City) because it was actually too cold where he lived to grow them (Poinsettias don’t like it when it gets below 50 degrees). The poinsettia, seen as a symbol of purity by the Aztecs, was used for healing and for making dyes.

In the Mayan folklore of South America it is said that the Poinsettias are actually Divine Beings.

There is one sweet story from Mexico of two children who went the nativity to bring gifts to the Christ child. The young girl was very sad that she had no gift to bring. But she was told that any humble gift given in love was all that Christ wanted. So she gathered together a little bundle of weeds and placed them before the Nativity, where they turned a beautiful red color. This little bundle became the first poinsettia plant, and was used in nativity scenes for decoration ever after.

So in fact the Poinsettia was not grown by Santa’s elves as some of us may have previously thought! It remains one of the most popular symbols of Christmas, here in the United States and Mexico, and as a symbol of purity, it continues to brighten hearts and spirits alike.

http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art15737.aspHere's a legend of the flower (http://www.ecke.com/HTML/h_corp/corp_legend.html).
Some history (http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/poinsettia/history.cfm) & facts (http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/poinsettia/facts.cfm) about them.

About toxicity:
Poinsettia Toxicity Myth (http://www.google.com/url?sa=U&start=1&q=http://www.aboutflowers.com/holidays_b11d.html&ei=tIY3SePvOYjMmQeZt5WmAw&usg=AFQjCNGHn33OqGfXf9syARhYDSAOnvyDMQ)
snopes.com: Poisonous Poinsettias (http://www.google.com/url?sa=U&start=8&q=http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/poinsettia.asp&ei=tIY3SePvOYjMmQeZt5WmAw&usg=AFQjCNEX7CKWHmvKn7el_s8bn2FU8p1wig)


Mistletoe is commonly used as a Christmas decoration, though such use was rarely alluded to into the 18th century. Viscum album is used in Europe whereas Phoradendron serotinum is used in North America. According to custom, the mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at Candlemas; it may remain hanging through the year, often to preserve the house from lightning or fire, until it was replaced the following Christmas Eve.The tradition has spread throughout the English-speaking world but is largely unknown in the rest of Europe...


Kissing under the mistletoe:
Kissing under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites. They probably originated from two beliefs. One belief was that it has power to bestow fertility. It was also believed that the dung from which the mistletoe would also possess "life-giving" power. In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up. Later, the eighteenth-century English credited with a certain magical appeal called a kissing ball. At Christmas time a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, cannot refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained unkissed, she cannot expect not to marry the following year. In some parts of England the Christmas mistletoe is burned on the twelfth night lest all the boys and girls who have kissed under it never marry. Whether we believe it or not, it always makes for fun and frolic at Christmas celebrations. Even if the pagan significance has been long forgotten, the custom of exchanging a kiss under the mistletoe can still be found in many European countries as well as in Canada. Thus if a couple in love exchanges a kiss under the mistletoe, it is interpreted as a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life. In France, the custom linked to mistletoe was reserved for New Year's Day: "Au gui l'An neuf" (Mistletoe for the New Year). Today, kisses can be exchanged under the mistletoe any time during the holiday season.


Mistletoe is believed by pagans to give protection, and be useful in love, to be a bestower of life and fertility, a protector against poison, and an aphrodisiac.

It can be worn as a protective amulet (well as an amulet anyhow). It was thought to be a good anti-lightning charm. To divert lightning a branch should be placed above the doorway to your house to protect it during thunderstorms. Supposedly extinguishes fires (can't find any details how though). The branch also prevents the entrance of witches if hung above a doorway - but what if you meet one in the doorway? Is a kiss in order?

For the most effective magic (get this) it's supposed to be harvested using a golden sickle during a full moon - seems like a good excuse to me - "It would have worked but I only had my ordinary sickle on me....."

Botanically mistletoe is a partial parasite (a semiparasite). Seeds spread by birds (often in their droppings - which act as glue and fertiliser) germinate and grow on the branches or trunk of a tree. The plant sends out roots that penetrate into the tree. It certainly takes up water and mineral nutrients from the tree as it has no other source, but it makes its own food by photosynthesis as do other green plants, rather than feeding entirely from its host.

Mistletoe has a lot to thank bird poop forThe name mistletoe was derived from the belief that the plant spontaneously grew from bird droppings (although I'm sure that even in pre-history people realised that birds could spread seeds by eating berries and flying off and pooping it out sometime later).

"Mistel" is an old Anglo-Saxon word for "dung," and "tan" is the word for "twig". Mistletoe therefore means "dung-on-a-twig". I feel sorry for the poor old "Mistle-thrush" what a name.

The seeds are very sticky and when birds that been feeding on mistletoe berries clean their beaks, they often do so by wiping them on the bark of trees, so further placing the seeds in the right place.

Viscum album, the commonest European form is sometimes seen on oak trees, but far more commonly on apples. There are other related species that grow on pine trees. It is when growing on oak that mistletoe was supposed to have its most magical powers.

English and Welsh farmers would give the Christmas bunch of mistletoe to the first cow that calved in the New Year. This gave good luck to the entire herd.

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is first seen in the Roman festival of Saturnalia ( though some ascribe it to the Scandinavians from the belief it is a plant of peace and harmony, see below) and later in marriage rites.

There is a legend both Roman and also Norse that is essentially the same though with different characters:

Both stories involve a goddess and her son, for the Romans they are Venus, the goddess of love and Apollo, the god of music, poetry, prophecy and medicine. For the Norse, there is Frigga, also the goddess of love and Balda the god of light. The mother goddesses had protected their sons from all harm in the world except for mistletoe and whaddya know? They both had their hearts pierced with sharpened sprigs of mistletoe, by evil spirits or other gods.

When the mothers found out about the death their tears became the white berries of the mistletoe. The story has a happy ending however, as luck would have it the respective sons were brought back to life again (an advantage of being the godly son of a goddess I guess) and the mothers Venus and Frigga were so happy that they kissed anyone who walked under the mistletoe.

Mistletoe kissing etiquette dictates that a man should pluck a berry when he kisses a woman under a branch of the plant, when the last berry is gone, there should be no more kissing! Girls who refuse to be kissed under the mistletoe will remain spinsters and become "old maids".

Mistletoe was believed to have the power of fertility. In some parts of England the Christmas mistletoe was burned on twelfth night. If it wasn't then the boys and girls who kissed under it may never marry.

In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace and harmony. Enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up under a branch of mistletoe.

The early Christian church banned the use of mistletoe in Christmas celebrations because of its pagan origins. Church fathers suggested the use of holly as an appropriate substitute for Christmas greenery. As was the case with holly, simply having the taint of paganism wasn't going to let people ignore such an excellent winter decoration as mistletoe. This must have been especially true given that it provided excuses to kiss members of the opposite sex at parties, so the Christianization of mistletoe began and convenient legends were made up - err sorry - rediscovered. One legend was that mistletoe used to be a tree, the wood of which was used to make Christ's crucifixion cross. As punishment for its role in the death of Christ, mistletoe was cursed and not welcome on the earth having to return as a parasite dependent on other trees for its life.

Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens or serotinum) is the state flower of Oklahoma. Mistletoe grows on trees throughout the state and is particularly abundant in the southern regions of the state. The dark green leaves and white berries show up brightly during the autumn and winter in trees that have shed their own leaves.

To the early pioneers who saw the mistletoe growing thick and luxuriantly in the trees in the bleak winter months, it became an inspiration signifying survival, hardiness and endurance. During the winter, as in Northern Europe, it was often the only greenery available to put on graves or to use at weddings. As pioneers, they ignored the pagan history and associations of mistletoe.

It became the official flower of Oklahoma Territory (and later the State of Oklahoma) in 1893, initially against the wishes of some churches due to the pagan associations. In the language of flowers, mistletoe means "I surmount all difficulties", very appropriate for the pioneers.

Buy christmas trees Evergreen plants have been considered to be potent symbols of growth and re-birth particularly in Europe and Western Asia for thousands of years. They were used in winter festivities as a means of ensuring that life and growth would return again in the spring.

The plants that we now bring into our homes at Christmas time are almost without exception, taken from pagan midwinter feasts of Northern Europe rather than from Christian origins and pre-date modern religious significance which has been overlaid onto the older traditions.

One of the main differences is that we now bring such greenery into our homes much sooner than used to be done. Theoretically it shouldn't be brought into the house until Christmas Eve as this was considered bad luck. Although Christmas is just far too exciting an event for most people who celebrate it to wait - particularly if you have children!

http://www.angliangardener.co.uk/Lore/christmas_mistletoe.htmMyths and Lore of Mistletoe (http://www.google.com/url?sa=U&start=1&q=http://www.state.tn.us/environment/tn_consv/archive/mistltoe.htm&ei=jYc3SfGoMODZmQeWkrWYAw&usg=AFQjCNHI7Jr0m5CUJn44xWmqGcPYxE38Ig)
Mistletoe - Lore and Origins of Mistletoe (http://www.google.com/url?sa=U&start=2&q=http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/norsegodspictures/p/mistletoe.htm&ei=jYc3SfGoMODZmQeWkrWYAw&usg=AFQjCNHyuWb0BTWY7hvzIN2lvearlmyxRg)


The plant with its shiny green prickly leaves and red berry has come to stand for peace and joy, people often settle arguments under a holly tree. Holly is believed to frighten off witches and protect the home from thunder and lightning. In West England it is said sprigs of holly around a young girl's bed on Christmas Eve are supposed to keep away mischievous little goblins. In England, British farmers put sprigs of holly on their beehives. On the first Christmas, they believed, the bees hummed in honor of the Christ Child. The English also mention the "he holly and the she holly" as being the determining factor in who will rule the household in the following year, the "she holly" having smooth leaves and the "he holly" having prickly ones. In Germany, a piece that has been used in church decorations is regarded as a charm against lightning. Other beliefs included putting a sprig of holly on the bedpost to bring sweet dreams and making a tonic from holly to cure a cough. All of these references give light to "decking the halls with boughs of holly."

The sacredness of holly, however, finds a pagan origin. The Druids believed that holly, with its evergreen look keeps the earth beautiful when the sacred oak lost it leaves. They used to wear sprigs of holly in their hair when they went into the forest to watch their priests cut the sacred mistletoe.

Holly was the sacred plant of Saturn and was used at the Roman Saturnalia festival to honor him. Romans gave one another holly wreaths and carried them about decorating images of Saturn with it. Centuries later, in December, while other Romans continued their pagan worship, Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus. To avoid persecution, they decked their homes with Saturnalia holly. As Christian numbers increased and their customs prevailed, holly lost its pagan association and became a symbol of Christmas.

Like other evergreens, holly has represented immortality ever since people began to look to plants for inspiration, it has been regarded as a plant of good omen since Early Times (It is now widely accepted by scholars that "Early Times" lies between the Late Eocene and "Donkeys Years Ago").

Holly has the advantageous property of looking as good in mid-winter as in mid-summer, other evergreens can look a bit poorly in the winter even though they perk up again when spring arrives - this amongst other things probably has helped its position in folk-lore.

All evergreens shed their leaves through the year, they just don't do it all in one go like deciduous plants. Holly tends to do this mainly in the spring, again helping it look good through the winter.

Holly was taken into homes when winter began to shelter the elves and fairies who could live with mortals at this time without causing injury (maybe they get trodden on at other times?). Holly was regarded as an excellent form of protection for all manner of things but specifically against evil spirits, poisons, thunder and lightning and the evil eye.

There are records of gifts of holly being given at the Roman festival of Saturnalia which lasted 5 days and ended with the winter solstice. Early Christians began to use holly in Nativity celebrations to disguise their Christianity, as it was sacred to pagan gods it gave the impression that they were taking part in Saturnalia.

Holly along with mistletoe was banned by the early Christian church due to its connections with pagans. This ban wasn't lifted until the 1600's, by then legends had sprung up about holly and the crucifixion, so it seems that stories were in fact made up (clearly not by botanists) to fit something that was a jolly useful winter decoration. One such erstwhile tale claims that holly sprang up under Christ's feet as he walked to Calgary, the red berries representing his blood. Another is that the crown of thorns was made of holly and the berries which were originally white were stained red with blood when the spikes broke the Christ's skin. There are even claims that holly wood was used to make the cross.

More recently the "Holly King" a tradition carried on in mummers plays would vie with the "Oak King" for the hand of a fair maiden. At midsummer the oak king was defeated by the holly king, at midwinter, the oak king was victorious and so the seasonal tides flowed smoothly.

In some parts of Ireland, the holly from Christmas was kept and burned to help cook the pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

In rural areas of England, a bunch of holly was placed in the stable or cow shed on Christmas Eve to bring luck and favour the animals.

A European tradition says that whoever brought the first holly into the house, husband or wife, at Christmas would rule the house for the next year. Likewise prickly holly is said to be male while smooth leafed holly is said to be female, and which sort is brought in will affect whether the man or woman of the house will hold sway.

Bringing holly into the house before Christmas Eve will lead to family quarrels, though as the tree symbolizes peace and joy, disputes and differences of opinion can be settled under a holly tree.

Things to avoid with holly which bring bad luck:

* burn it while still green
* smash the berries
* bring holly flowers into the house in the summer


Possibly more to come!
Feel free to add more links/info and discuss things. :)

December 22nd, 2008, 07:32 PM
Interesting info, Agaliha.

December 22nd, 2008, 09:11 PM
Lol. I just did a blog all about mistletoe the other day! Thanks for the other plants!