Why do people kiss under mistletoe? Kissing under the mistletoe is a tradition that has been passed on through the generations since the time of the Druids, Celts and the Norse. The Druids believed the mistletoe plant had great powers, especially when it managed to grow on oak trees, as oaks were sacred to the Druids. Many other cultures link the mistletoe to fertility, spontaneous generation and aphrodisiacs. It was believed that mistletoe that grew on sacred oaks was especially powerful and could cure sterility and counteract poisons.
What Is Mistletoe?
Mistletoe is a poisonous, evergreen parasitic plant. It grows mostly on softwood trees, such as apple and pine. Occasionally it can be seen growing on oak trees.
The plant lives off of the nutrients from the host tree; it does not get any nutrients from the soil. All parts of the mistletoe, especially the leaves, are poisonous. Eating it causes mild to severe gastrointestinal distress.
Norsemen in ancient Scandinavia revered the mistletoe. They saw it as a plant of peace. If there were a battle that moved under mistletoe, they would lay down their weapons and call and maintain a truce until the next day.
The Norse myth of Baldur is supposedly where the kissing-under-the-mistletoe tradition began. Baldur's mother, the Norse goddess Frigga, made everything, including plants, animals and inanimate objects, promise not to hurt her son when he was born, but she forgot about the mistletoe. The Norse god Loki learned of this and made a dart from the mistletoe plant. In a dirty trick, he gave the dart to Hodor, Baldur's brother and the Norse god of Darkness. Loki said he would teach Hodor how to shoot darts; when he did, Loki guided the dart into Baldur's heart, killing him.
The mistletoe felt bad because Frigga would not stop crying. It grew berries that were milky white from her tears. Because Baldur's death was so sad, the world went into wintertime. Other Norse gods felt sorry for Frigga and brought Baldur back to life. Frigga decreed that the mistletoe was sacred and ordered that it should be used to bring love to the world instead of death. From then on, anytime two people walked under the mistletoe together, they had to kiss to celebrate Baldur's resurrection.
Variations of these myths were carried to eighteenth-century England. At Christmas, if a woman was standing under the mistletoe, men could not resist kissing her. The kiss meant that the woman would have a long-lasting friendship or a deep romance. If a man did not kiss her, it was expected that she would not be married until after the next year.
You'll find mistletoe for sale at Christmas for more romantic than legendary or superstitious purposes. But when you lean in for that holiday kiss, think about how you're continuing a tradition that's endured for hundreds of years.
Large infestations of mistletoe are capable of killing trees. Find out what to do if your trees get infected.
Is mistletoe poisonous? Learn about how to take precautions if you'll hang it in a home with children or pets.