Every December, many Americans and Europeans hang a sprig of mistletoe in their doorways as a holiday tradition. If someone is caught standing under the mistletoe, it is customary to give them a kiss.
But what is it about mistletoe that makes people want to kiss under it?
For centuries, mistletoe has been associated with increased life and fertility. Celtic Druids from the 1st century A.D. considered it a symbol of vivacity because it remained green while other plants became bare during winter.
Some historians believe that the connection between mistletoe and kissing comes from ancient Norse mythology. In a happier version of the legend, Baldur was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe. His mother, the goddess Frigg, wept tears onto the arrow, which turned into white berries. She placed these berries on Baldur’s wound, bringing him back to life. Grateful, Frigg blessed the mistletoe plant and promised a kiss to anyone who passed beneath it.
Although the story of Baldur is often cited as the origin of the mistletoe-kissing tradition, other versions of the story end with Baldur’s death and no revival. Considering the age of these myths, it is possible that happier versions were passed down over time, influencing future mistletoe traditions.
Mistletoe traditions have changed over time. In ancient times, visitors would kiss the hand of the host under the mistletoe upon arrival. Nowadays, the tradition has become more personal, with any couple caught standing under the mistletoe expected to share a kiss.
So what exactly is mistletoe? It is a parasitic plant that depends on another plant for survival.
Mistletoe can only grow if its seeds are carried to a “host” tree by birds that have eaten mistletoe berries. The bird squeezes the berry in its beak, releasing a sticky seed. After eating the fruit, the bird cleans the sticky coating, called “viscin,” off its beak by wiping it on a nearby branch. As the viscin hardens, the seed becomes firmly attached to the host tree.
The mistletoe then invades the host tree, taking nutrients and water from it. In fact, the scientific name for American mistletoe (Phoradendron) translates to “thief of the tree” in Greek.
More interesting facts about mistletoe:
- Birds can eat mistletoe berries, but they are highly toxic to humans.
- Approximately 20 species of mistletoe are endangered.
- Celtic Druids believed that mistletoe contained the spirit of the tree it grew on, as it remained green throughout winter.
Try It Out
If you can’t find mistletoe in your neighborhood, you can make your own version of it.
This fun holiday craft will bring sparkle, cheer, and sweetness to your doorway this holiday season, along with a kiss or two.
Sources of Wonder
- A website about the Balder myth: http://www.cpbr.gov.au/mistletoe/balder-myth.html
- A story about Frigga and the mistletoe from Norse: http://www.uexpress.com/tell-me-a-story/2004/12/19/frigga-and-the-mistletoe-a-norse
- A blog post with festive facts from the Woodland Trust: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blogs/woodland-trust/2015/12/festive-facts/
- A history article answering the question of why we kiss under the mistletoe: http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/why-do-we-kiss-under-the-mistletoe
1. Why do people kiss under mistletoe?
People kiss under mistletoe as part of a Christmas tradition that dates back to ancient times. Mistletoe was considered a sacred plant by the Druids, who believed it had magical properties and brought good luck. It was believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits and promote fertility. The tradition of kissing under mistletoe evolved from the ancient belief that it was a symbol of love and friendship. Today, it is a fun and lighthearted tradition during the holiday season, where people exchange kisses when caught standing under the mistletoe.
2. What is the significance of mistletoe in Christmas celebrations?
Mistletoe has long been associated with Christmas celebrations. It is believed to represent love, peace, and goodwill. Hanging mistletoe in the house during Christmas is said to bring happiness and good fortune to the family. It is also seen as a symbol of fertility and a way to encourage love and romance. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is a playful way to spread joy and affection during the holiday season.
3. Where did the tradition of kissing under mistletoe originate?
The tradition of kissing under mistletoe originated from ancient Celtic and Norse traditions. The Celtic Druids believed mistletoe had magical properties and used it in their rituals. The Norse mythology also associated mistletoe with love and friendship. Over time, the tradition spread and became a popular Christmas custom in Europe. Today, it is widely practiced in many countries as a festive and romantic gesture during the holiday season.
4. Is there any specific etiquette for kissing under mistletoe?
There is no specific etiquette for kissing under mistletoe, as it is meant to be a fun and spontaneous tradition. However, it is important to respect personal boundaries and ensure that both parties are comfortable with the gesture. It is customary to exchange a quick peck on the cheek or lips when caught under the mistletoe. The tradition is meant to spread joy and affection, so it is important to approach it with a lighthearted and respectful attitude.
5. Can anyone hang mistletoe and initiate the tradition of kissing?
Yes, anyone can hang mistletoe and initiate the tradition of kissing. Hanging mistletoe in a visible place, such as doorways or ceilings, can create a playful atmosphere during the holiday season. When someone is caught standing under the mistletoe, it is customary for others to encourage a kiss. However, it is important to remember that participation in the tradition should always be consensual and respectful. It is ultimately up to each individual whether they want to engage in the tradition of kissing under mistletoe.