Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mistletoe Madness, 1796

Thursday, December 13, 2012
Isabella reporting:

In modern holiday celebrations, mistletoe has become something of a kitsch-y joke, the inevitable prop for I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus humor.

But in the 1790s, when the print, left, was published, mistletoe still had an aura of wickedness, even danger. The ancient Druidic traditions linking mistletoe and fertility had not been forgotten, and kissing beneath the mistletoe was thought to lead to more promiscuity, or even - shudder! - marriage.

Certainly the four merry young  couples in this print appear to be enjoying themselves. Some scholarly descriptions refer to this as a dance scene, and perhaps it does show nothing more than a particularly rollicking country dance.

Still, I can't help but think that at any moment some stern-faced, indignant elder is going to appear in the doorway and demand to know what exactly is going on down here. I'm guessing the artist thought that, too, from the caption he added to the bottom: "Whilst Romp loving Miss is haul'd about/With gallantry robust." (The attribution to Milton is incorrect; the line is from a poem by the 18th c. Scottish poet James Thomson.) In any event, there's no doubt that these are romp-loving misses being haul'd about by their robust gallants. No wonder Christmas mistletoe was so popular!

Above: The mistletoe, or, Christmas gambols, by Edward Penny, 1796, London. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.


Lauren Hairston said...

"Romp loving miss"--what a turn of phrase. I'll definitely have to start incorporating it into everyday conversation.

Merlina said...

That's my kind of party. I bet the eggnog was aflowing!

Unknown said...

There having a good time aren't they, love her gown, think I would have enjoyed that party as well.

Anonymous said...

Smooching observed in the background! This party is due to be broken up any moment.

An Historical Lady said...

Oh, what fun! I agree---How nice it would be to go back in time to this party!

Grace Burrowes said...

I was born in the wrong century.

Unknown said...

I certainly would have preferred those kinds of entertainment! Love a romp loving mistress D.S.

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