Kisses under the mistletoe are common during the holiday season, though they should be reserved for people who live in your household this year. But where did this tradition come from?
Ancient Mistletoe Traditions
In the 1st century, the Celtic Druids believed the plant held sacred powers, such as healing illness and protecting against nightmares, due to its ability to blossom even in the coldest winter months. It was foraged by the group during summer and winter solstices.
During the Roman era, mistletoe represented peace. Not only were homes decorated with the plant in the winter in an effort to keep their gods happy, but enemies at war would often reconcile underneath it.
A Mistletoe Myth
Another story involves Nordic mythology. It is said that Loki, the god of mischief, killed the son of Frigg, the goddess of love, with a spear that was carved out of mistletoe despite her spell on all plants to ensure none could be used as a weapon against him. The spell didn’t reach the plant because it grows from tree branches rather than from the soil of the Earth.
Some say Frigg revived her son under a mistletoe tree and proclaimed that those who stand underneath it deserve both protection and a kiss. Other versions simply state that Frigg promised to kiss anyone who passed beneath it in honor of her deceased son.
It’s widely thought that the mistletoe tradition transitioned to Christmas in England. There, if a girl refused a kiss, it was said that she shouldn’t expect any marriage proposals for at least a year. Other rules indicate that the man should pluck one of the plant’s white berries with each kiss, which should be on the cheek, and there is only one kiss allowed per berry.
People have been kissing under the mistletoe for centuries. While its origin stories may vary, this tradition has remained constant.
5 Things You May Be Surprised to Know About Mistletoe
1. There are 1,300 species of mistletoe worldwide (more than 20 of them are endangered).
2. Mistletoe flowers often provide the first pollen available in the spring for hungry bees.
3. It’s toxic to people, but many mammals rely on its berries and leaves for protein in the fall and winter months. Researchers have documented elk, deer, squirrels, chipmunks and porcupines eating mistletoe.
4. The American mistletoe (the species associated with kissing) is found from New Jersey to Florida and as west as Texas. Its scientific name, Phoradendron, means “thief of the tree” in Greek, and it’s considered a parasite due to the way it steals nutrients from host trees.
5. Chinese medicine, as well as traditional indigenous groups in Australia and Latin America, have used concentrated compounds from the mistletoe’s host tree for medicinal purposes. Also, the Navajo have used Juniper mistletoe to create a lotion for bug bites, warts and stomach pain.
Source: U.S. Geological Survey