Mother Earth Living

History: Holiday Kissing Ball

A simple sprig of decorative mistletoe is a familiar prompt for a holiday kiss, but you can make your foyer extraordinary with a traditional kissing ball.
By Ariel Tilson and Stephanie Nelson
December/January 2010
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A simple sprig of decorative mistletoe is a familiar prompt for a holiday kiss, but you can make your foyer extraordinary with a traditional kissing ball.

Originally, during England’s Middle Ages, “holy boughs”—made from interlocking evergreen branches and supporting figurines of baby Jesus or the holy family—graced passages. Throughout the holiday season, the holy bough hung from entryways as an omen of goodwill for embracing visitors.

After a period of unpopularity, thanks to the Puritans, Victorians brought the holy bough back from obscurity, refurbished with a new look and a new name. It now became an elaborately decorated apple or potato replete with herbs and foliage. The herbs on each “kissing ball” were not only chosen for their beauty, but also for their symbolic value. Lavender and rosemary signified loyalty and devotion, while thyme promoted courage. Mistletoe was a popular decorative choice symbolizing good fortune and fertility.

The kissing ball began to emphasize romance, rather than mere good will. Dancers waltzed under the kissing ball laced with mistletoe for a peck, and single women stood in wait for potential suitors. Eventually, sprigs of mistletoe superseded all other greenery and became the enduring symbol of holiday affection that we know today.

For our online exclusive instructions on how to make your own holiday kissing ball see DIY Victorian Kissing Ball.

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