According to Facebook, Christmas Eve is the most popular day to get engaged. This unofficial survey was based on the timing of personal relationship status changes. During the Christmas season, romance is in the air -- along with gingerbread houses, candy canes and mistletoe.
The ancient Druids once believed that drinking from the mistletoe plant would ensure fertility; however, there are some mistletoe plants that can be toxic, so this is not advised. The mistletoe plant grows on trees, remains green all year and is noted for its vigor and healing properties. Mistletoe can even blossom in the middle of the coldest winter. The Greeks used mistletoe to cure menstrual cramps and other stomach discomforts, and in ancient Rome it was used as a balm against epilepsy, ulcers and poisons. The present-day herbal community is even investigating mistletoe's impact on cancer cells, although the National Cancer Institute states that there are still many more tests necessary before it can be accepted for use. Mistletoe is also assumed to ward off any and all evil spirits, and in Scandinavia it was considered a symbol of peace for both country leaders and estranged couples.
The current tradition of kissing under the mistletoe began in 18th century England. In Charles Dickens' "The Pickwick Papers" there is a lively scene where young ladies resisted the advances of young gentlemen until "they all at once found it useless to resist any longer and submitted to be kissed with a good grace." The kisses described in Dickens' passage were meant to curry good luck on all who participated. Writer Washington Irving also wrote of mistletoe and described it as the "imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids." Several countries around the world have adopted the Christmas Eve mistletoe kiss as their own, including the U.S. and Canada; in France, the mistletoe kiss is reserved for New Year's Eve.
Long ago, it was assumed that a gentleman caller who got his lady friend under a sprig of mistletoe was allowed to kiss her and she couldn't refuse, but for every kiss a berry had to be plucked off, and when the last berry was gone, no more liberties were allowed. The kiss was believed to mean lasting romance through the year, and any young lady standing under the mistletoe without receiving a kiss meant that the gal would not marry within the coming year. It was assumed that a couple in love who kissed under the mistletoe was making a promise to marry soon. Today the mistletoe kiss can happen at any time during the holiday season and is no longer limited to Christmas Eve.
Worldwide romantic Christmas traditions vary with optional kissing permitted. A cherry blossom twig is placed into water in early December in Austria, and if it blossoms by Christmas Eve, it heralds an upcoming wedding and good luck. In the European country of Belarus, a rooster is the equivalent of catching the bridal bouquet; on Christmas Eve maidens gather in a circle with corn at their feet, whichever pile of corn the rooster decides to eat predicts which woman will be the next bride. Special rice pudding is served after the Christmas Eve feast and singles choose their serving hoping to find an almond in the bowl, for the almond foretells that person's marriage within the year.
Of course, not all Christmas Eve romance is focused on the single hopefuls. In Greenland, married Inuit women are pampered and catered to by their husbands and given a day of rest all Christmas Eve.
Just ending the Christmas season, New Year's Eve has a few kissing traditions of its own. In the Renaissance era masquerade balls ushered in the new year, and masks were worn until midnight, at which time they were removed and everyone kissed. At the traditional "Hogamay" party in Scotland, it is customary to kiss everyone in the room just after midnight. In Western cultures, kissing at midnight on New Year's Eve guarantees a year without any loneliness. The holiday season is a time for love for all!