Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Kissing Ball

One of my favorite books for this time of year is called The Winter Solstice, by John Matthews. It's a compilation of legend, lore and history about traditions. legends and lore of the solstice, and even includes a few recipes (my favorite is the one for Soul Cake).

The book also includes poems, and here's one I thought you might enjoy, by John Gay, written in 1713:

When rosemary and bays, the poet's crown,

are bawled in frequent cries thoughout the town,

then judge the festival of Christmas near--

Christmas the joyous period of the year.

Now with bright holly all the temples strow,

with laurel green and mistletoe.

Got your mistletoe ball up yet? The book gives directions on how to make one. My mother, who was from England, made a kissing ball every year, intertwining two circles and wrapping them with ribbons and greens before hanging the mistletoe in the center. The directions linked above to Martha Stewart's page are very different from the ball my mother made.

Mom took two or three circles of wire and put them together to make an open ball. She'd wrap the wires (or sometimes she used embroidery hoops) with ribbons and lace, occasionally adding small shiny ornaments or strings of beads for glimmer. Then she'd add a loop at the top for hanging and suspend a sprig of mistletoe in the "cage" created by the ribbon-covered wires.

I wonder if she knew just how ancient that tradition was. According to Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend mistletoe has been believed to have mystical powers "since the earliest of times." The custom of kissing under the mistletoe is thought by some scholars to be linked to the festivities of Saturnalia, although others speculate that the tradition originated in Britain.
Sometimes referred to as "the golden bough" because of the color of the dried plant, it was believed by many cultures to be unlucky to cut the branches, or to let the harvested pieces touch the ground--rather it should be shot or shaken out of the oak or apple tree in which it grows, and caught or gathered on sheets held up to catch the falling pieces.
Wikipedia offers detailed information about folkloric beliefs and sources for stories and legends about mistletoe, and The Holiday Spot includes lore and a European myth about the origins of mistletoe's power.
I will wait a couple more weeks before venturing out to collect this plant for my kissing ball. Mythology aside, I just like being kissed!



so that's why they call it "the golden bough" - good to know.

Granny Sue said...

It's those little mysteries that are so intriguing, isn't it?

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