9th December 2018

The Kissing Bough in the 18th Century House

Ever been enticed under a sprig of mistletoe for someone to steal a kiss? Well this modern-day practice of kissing under the mistletoe stems from the earlier traditional decoration: the Kissing Bough. Often hung from the ceiling, the bough consisted of a ball of twigs and evergreens decorated with holly, seasonal fruits, such as apples, a crown of candles and finished with a bunch of mistletoe, under which no lady could refuse any respectable suitor a kiss.

This tradition of decorating the home with native evergreens is an ancient one. Since pagan times, evergreens have been valued for their ability to retain signs of life in the middle of winter – in some instances producing fruits and berries. Mistletoe therefore was considered sacred, thought to bring good luck and fertility and offer protection from witchcraft.

Despite the use of evergreens for decoration being widely adopted by the eighteenth century church, mistletoe was not permitted and would be excluded in religious ‘polite’ households such as the Fairfaxes. However whilst it did not gain ecclesiastical approval, mistletoe was adopted by the general population. Large bunches would hang on Kissing Boughs in kitchens ‘below-stairs’, away from the prying eyes of the family, providing the focus of many a stolen kiss.