We follow many Christmas traditions even though we often wonder how they started in the first place. The burning of Yule logs is one of such common traditions, as well as how the mistletoe became a ‘kissing plant.’ This article will explore the historical significance of these two common Christmas traditional symbols.
What type of plant is the mistletoe?
Considering the popular kiss-related stories around the mistletoe, it’s normal to wonder if the tree has any special or mystical qualities. The ‘mistletoe’ name is derived from ‘Mistel’ and ‘Tan,’ Anglo-Saxon words meaning ‘dung’ and ‘stick’ respectively.
The mistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant that grows only in trees. From bird droppings, the seed grows and attaches itself to a bigger tree, which serves as a host. The host tree provides essential nutrients to the mistletoe, helping it survive.
How is the mistletoe related to kissing?
In the first century A.D., the Celtic Druids saw the mistletoe as a sacred symbol of fertility when they noticed it blooming in harsh winters. However, the kissing part came from ancient Norse mythology.
When a goddess lost her son to an arrow made of mistletoe, she vowed that the mistletoe would kiss anyone who passed beneath it- as long as it wasn’t used as a weapon. In the 18th century, kissing under the mistletoe by compulsion became a thing.
What did the yule log signify in those days?
In Old Norse, the word ‘yule’ meant ‘winter’. So it’s not so surprising that they celebrated with yule logs during the winter solstice. The Winter Solstice was a sacred festival celebrated by the Vikings and Norsemen of Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Sweden.
During the Yule winter festival, everyone would sit around a giant burning log(usually made of oak) and feast together. This often went on for 12 days until the new year. Then, ‘the yule log’ meant the log burned for the yule festival.
The main significance remained constant over the years
For the ancient Vikings, burning the yule log meant spending time with family- they probably looked forward to it the way we anticipate Christmas. The storytellers in the family would share stories about the Norse gods while they feasted around the burning log.
Several years later, the logs were burned inside the house, with the remaining part of the tree sticking out into the room. Although we don’t burn massive yule logs today, the logs still signify a period of getting together with loved ones.
How did these traditions morph into Christmas festivities?
The ancient people who invented these traditions didn’t have Christmas in mind. The mistletoe probably became a prominent part of the Christmas decoration culture because it is one of the few plants blooming at the end of the year.
As for yule logs, they gradually became a part of the Christmas tradition due to the exposure of the Scandinavian people to Christianity. The Christian traditions became ‘mixed up’ with Viking practices since most of them were uneducated at the time.