A New Twist on an Historic Tradition

Cardinal and evergreen kissing ball. (Photo courtesy of Jackson & Perkins)
Cardinal and evergreen kissing ball. (Photo courtesy of Jackson & Perkins)

According to a recent Jackson & Perkins press release, decorating with fresh-cut evergreens has been a beloved tradition for centuries and still is today.

An evergreen accent that’s increasing in popularity is the kissing ball, which has its origins in the Middle Ages. Villagers would create ball-shaped ornaments made of twine and evergreen branches. In the center, they would place a clay figure of an infant representing the baby Jesus.

Called “holy boughs,” they were hung from the ceiling along passages in castles and large houses. They were said to render blessings to those who passed beneath.

With the new religious fervor sweeping through England and Europe from the 17th through the early 19th centuries, such decorations were frowned upon. But many people yearned for the beauty and symbolism of those traditional accents, and during the Victorian era, the kissing ball and other evergreen arrangements came back into fashion, but in a different way.

Sprigs of holly, evergreen, and sweet herbs would be stuck into a potato or apple until it bristled with natural decorations. These deliciously scented “sweet balls” brought welcome fragrance to people’s dwellings.

As was common during the Victorian period, the herbs and plants depicted love, affection, charity, piety, or a variety of other emotions, and by the end of the 19th century, kissing balls represented romantic love.

Ballrooms were often adorned with kissing balls hung from the ceiling. Sometimes a sprig of mistletoe was added, and unmarried maidens would line up, awaiting their chance to stand beneath it and receive a kiss.

Kissing balls began to disappear during the 20th century, with mistletoe remaining on its own as the symbol of romance and love. However, over the last few years, they’ve made another comeback, and now they’re all the rage for holiday parties.


We thank Jackson & Perkins for this information and credit them as our source. For more information, be sure to visit their website at www.jacksonandperkins.com.