Why mistletoe and poinsettias are everywhere this time of year
Pagan and Christian traditions combine in the stories of these seasonal plants.
During the holiday season, you will likely encounter (or dodge) a bushel of mistletoe and a pot of poinsettias. These festive plants feature in many Christmas displays, but why?
A hemi-parasitic plant, mistletoe attaches to another botanic species, absorbing nutrients from its host. The mistletoe cluster that forms is called a haustorium. Europeans call these structures “witches’ brooms.” Navajo refer to them as “baskets on high.”
Pliny the Elder tells us that the Gallic Druids believed that the plant “falls from heaven upon the oak.” The critic and poet Robert Graves writes that cutting the mistletoe from the oak tree symbolized the “emasculation of the old king by his successor” in Druid culture, “the mistletoe being a prime phallic emblem.” The plant’s white berries may have been associated with semen. So how does that transfer to Christmas, you ask?
Well, according to Pliny, the Druid word for mistletoe meant “all-heal in their language.” Indeed, they used the plant as a poison antidote (the plant itself is poisonous) and a fertility philter for animals. Because of its associations with fertility and vitality, mistletoe became an ornament during the winter solstice. It may have served as a charm to ensure the reemergence of fecundity following the dormant winter months. (Holly and ivy were also pagan fertility tokens.)
More from Daily Dose: Top Tweets of 2012
The tradition of kissing beneath mistletoe is first attested to in the 16th century. Through this romantic gesture, mistletoe maintains associations with fertility.
Many continue to explore its healing properties, too. Herbalists use mistletoe for respiratory and circulatory disorders. And Suzanne Sommers famously opted for mistletoe supplements instead of chemotherapy after breast cancer treatment.
The poinsettia, or Euphoriba pulcherrima, meaning “very beautiful,” is native to Mexico and Central America. Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist, physician, congressman and the first United States Minister to Mexico, introduced the poinsettia flower to the United States in 1825.
More from Daily Dose: Seismologists reveal earthquake hotspots
The flora’s association with Christmas comes from a Mexican folk story propagated by the Ecke family, one of the U.S.’s major suppliers of the plant. As the tale goes, in the 16th century a young Mexican girl was walking to Christmas Eve mass. Distressed because she had no gift to offer to Jesus, she plucked a handful of weeds from the roadside that she fashioned into a bouquet. As she set the weeds before the nativity, they transformed into brilliant red flowers. Today the poinsettia is known as “Noche Buena,” or Christmas Eve, in Mexico.
Bing: Get Christmas cookie recipes?
It is believed that the plant’s star shape represents the Star of Bethlehem. The crimson color recalls the blood of Christ’s crucifixion. Once a symbol of Aztec sacrifices, Montezuma is said to have decorated his palace with the flower. The Aztecs derived a red dye from the plant’s petals.
In the 1994 indie movie “Reality Bites,” Janeane Garofalo’s character claims that her manager at the Gap tried to kill herself by eating a pot of poinsettias. Urban legends overstate the flower’s toxicity, however. Although the poinsettia is toxic, an adult would have to consume thousands of leaves for the plant to be dangerous.
Photo: Burke/Triolo Productions/Getty Images
inspire: live a better life
You'll stave off credit card debt by the end of the year if you account for these often-forgotten expenses.
Mark Zuckerberg has an even bigger effect on your life than you thought.
Take this advice to finally tackle that nagging to-do list.
The iconic storyteller would have been 110-years-old
Take the time to appreciate women’s contributions to society. Here are some of the women who inspire us by their example.
Cast of the iconic TV show reunites for Florence Henderson's birthday
We couldn’t be more excited to watch the best athletes in the world compete at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. This year, about 44 percent of the competitors are women according to the International Olympic Committee—which is awesome but wasn’t always the case. Let’s look back at some of the amazing women who paved the way with incredible, memorable feats of girl power.
Still pulling yourself out of holiday credit card debt? Ready to pool some funds for that beach vacation you've been dreaming about at your desk? We're with you 100 percent.
"FOMO, the fear of missing out, is a form of social anxiety," says psychiatrist Gail Saltz. "This type of fear tends to cause compulsive behaviors, like checking out other social situations even as you are in the middle of one currently."
When The Shriver Report was released in early January, we shared some of the more interesting statistics about income equality, the wage gap, and other issues confronting women.
Clay Aiken to run for public office.
Here's how to boost your joy — and put more cash in your pocket.