Another very popular Christmas decoration during the Tudor and Elizabethan periods was the kissing bough. Like the Advent wreath, the kissing bough was woven from stems of ash or willow and then decorated with evergreen foliage, including mistletoe. Kissing boughs were hung on walls or over doorways to welcome guests and the practice soon gave birth to the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, which records suggest had its origins in the 16th century. Tradition has it that for each kiss stolen under the Tudor kissing bough, a berry from the mistletoe was removed; once all the berries were gone, so too were the kisses!
For the Tudors and Elizabethans, the evergreen plants chosen to make kissing boughs had great symbolic value. Holly’s association with Christmas comes from its use by Druids in the pagan winter solstice rituals which took place in December previously. The pagans regarded the evergreen colour of holly as a symbol of eternal life. Closely linked to holly in Christmas imagery. Ivy is believed to represent dependence, endurance, and faithfulness. As Shakespeare has Ophelia say in Hamlet, rosemary is associated with remembrance (especially for the dead) and with love. It also has connections to the Virgin Mary whose cloak is blue after the colour of rosemary flowers. Mistletoe’s reputation for increasing life and fertility is believed to date back to an ancient Norse legend.
Tradition dictates that mistletoe cut for Christmas must not touch the ground from the time of cutting until Candlemas when it should be the very last Christmas evergreen to be taken down. Candlemas is celebrated in churches on 2nd February and is the last service and feast of the Christmas cycle.