Christmas Traditions: Kissing Under The Mistletoe and It’s Origins
Mistletoe became popular as a holiday tradition starting around the seventeen hundreds in Germany. It used as both a decoration, and was tied to a superstitious belief of keeping evils spirits away during the month of Christmas. Overtime, Mistletoe began to have to take on a more fun purpose when servants began the tradition of kissing under the Mistletoe. The tradition goes that a man could kiss any woman standing underneath a mistletoe, which made for some light-hearted flirting fun. But the tradition also included that a berry must be picked from the mistletoe with each kiss. And therefore, when you run out of berries, you run out of kisses. Better use them wisely!
The mistletoe plant itself is a beautiful evergreen plant that bears its fruit around the beginning of winter. Hence why it was associated with the holidays. There are actually quite a variety of mistletoe species. Commercially, mistletoe berry are generally portrayed as being red. However, many don’t know that white berries are common in some mistletoe species.
The Mistletoe plant is a very hardy plant with the ability to withstand extreme weather conditions. The botanical name for the plant is Phoradendron, which translated from Greek means tree thief. It was given this name because the means by which a Mistletoe plant survives is by stealing its nutrients from the host tree that it grows on as required. It has even been known to pierce deep beneath the bark of its host tree to steal the nutrients and water needed to survive.
Interesting, mistletoe is able to carry out photosynthesis on its own, independent of the sun. There are a number of medicinal uses for mistletoe that have given the plant an important role beyond fun traditions and superstitions. In Europe, it has been used for hundreds of years to treat infertility, epilepsy, hypertension, and even arthritis. Today, mistletoe even plays a role in the fight against cancer, though its clinical efficacy has not yet been established.
Due to the parasitic and medicinal nature of mistletoe, it has been a part of different cultures long before becoming a beloved Christmas tradition.
For example, the Druids, who lives approximately 2,400 years ago, believed that mistletoe had the power of fertility. Mistletoe commonly grows on oak trees, and during the winter oak trees would be bare except for the beautiful green mistletoe plant growing on it. This was believed to be a sign of fertility. Due to its sacred nature, the Celts would protect their homes by placing a mistletoe branch above their front door prohibiting fighting beneath it. Some believe this eventually evolved into our modern tradition of kissing underneath mistletoe.
In Norse mythology, which dates back to the 13th century, mistletoe plays a significant role in the death of one of the most beloved gods in Norse mythology. Balder, brother of Thor and the second son of god Odin. Balder, who was said to be so handsome and fair that light shown from him, and who was said to be generous, was the most loved.
His mother, the goddess Frigg, after having a vision that her beloved son would die made on living things on earth swear an oath to never harm her son. She neglected, however, to have mistletoe swear the oath believing it to be harmless. The jealous god Loki, knowing of this flaw, made a spear from mistletoe and tricked the blind god Höðr into hurling the spear at Balder, fatally wounding him.
There are many other interesting traditions and even superstitions of mistletoe, many of which were beliefs such as parents hanging mistletoe above their children’s bed as a form of protection against evil spirits.
Though historical traditions and beliefs of other cultures with mistletoe is fascinating and interesting to learn about, I personally am a an of our modern, and more light hearted mistletoe tradition. Kissing under the mistletoe for me has always had such a cute, light hearted, and good will feel to it that to me embodies the nature and good will of the Christmas spirit. Hopefully you and your special someone, (or perhaps a special someone to be,) will find yourselves under an opportunistically hung mistletoe this Christmas.