The Kissing Bough (Kissing Ball) A Tudor and Victorian Christmas Tradition
The kissing ball, or bough, comes to us from the Middle Ages. During this time, villagers would wind together twine and evergreen branches into a ramshackle ball shape. In the center of this conglomeration of evergreen boughs they would place a clay figure of an infant to represent the baby Jesus. These “holy boughs”, as they were called, would be hung from the ceiling along passageways in castles and big houses to render blessings and good luck to all who passed under the bough and the Holy Infant.
During Tudor times, the kissing bough was one of the most popular Christmas traditions. These boughs were made with two intertwined hoops covered with evergreens, including holly, bay and mistletoe. They were often hung on walls or over doorways to welcome guests. The English were fond of “saluting,”
or kissing, in greeting or leave-taking. During the Christmas season, the kissing bough gave license to this activity! Those who met under the mistletoe would each pick a berry from the plant as proof of the kiss.
In Victorian England, the kissing bough was refurbished with a new look and name. It was decorated with herbs and foliage in an elaborate manor. In addition to the use of Mistletoe and other evergreen plants, such as bay and pine, flowers and herbs could be used. The particular herbs incorporated were chosen for both their beauty and symbolic value. Lavender and rosemary signified loyalty and devotion, thyme promoted courage, and mistletoe brought good fortune and fertility.
Ribbon and glitter held the plants and flowers together in a ball. Traditionally, a Victorian kissing ball had an apple or potato as a base.
Romance was the emphasis of the kissing ball in Victorian England, and dancers waltzed under it. Now laced with mistletoe, single women stood under the ball waiting for potential suitors. Eventually, the tradition of hanging only mistletoe took the place of the kissing ball. This is what is familiar to us today.
See if you can match these traditional Christmas evergreens with their symbolic meanings. The answers are provided below, but try not to look right away!
1.BALSAM a.DOMESTIC HAPPINESS
3.PINE c.ARDENT LOVE
Answers: 1.c; 2.e; 3.f; 4.h; 5.b; 6.i; 7.g; 8.d; 9.a
Photo source: Verity Gough