Friday 23 December 2011


Kissing under the mistletoe is a Christmas tradition.  It is common to hang a ball of mistletoe from the ceiling and exchange kisses under it. After each kiss, a berry should be removed until all the berries (and kisses) are gone. But where did this tradition originate?

There are several cultural influences for this tradition, and most centre on the fertility symbolism of the plant. This association with fertility is down to the way mistletoe reproduces and its ability to remain evergreen on leafless, dormant hosts. There is a consistent theme that kissing under the mistletoe assured couples of health, fertility and good fortune, as well as future betrothal.

The Druids considered mistletoe a scared plant, having powers to cure illness and ensure fertility. It was considered to have aphrodisiac qualities. They would often collect mistletoe in special ceremonies and use the plant to make medicines to counter sterility and combat poisons.

The Celtic translation for mistletoe is 'All-heal' as Celts believed that the plant had properties that could heal the sick, bring good luck and bring fertility.

In northern France the plant was referred to as Herbe de la croix, as it is believed that Christs cross was made from mistletoe wood. Legend says that in reaction to mistletoe's role in his death the plant was cursed, and destined to grow only as a parasite dependant on other trees.  

In ancient Scandinavia it was believed that mistletoe was a peaceful plant.  The myth of Baldur probably lead to the tradition of kissing under the plant. 

Baldurs mother was the Norse goddess of love and marriage Friga, and when he was born she made every pant, animal and inanimate object promise not to hurt him.

However, she overlooked mistletoe and Loki, mischievous god of the Norse, took advantage of this oversight and fashioned a dart from the plant.   He deceptively passed this dart to Baldurs brother Hodor as he taught him to fire darts, and Baldhur was struck directly through the heart. 

It was said that Frigas tears of mourning were so severe that the winter was formed and the mistletoe produced milky white berries from her tears.  Eventually, other Norse gods took pity on Friga and restored Baldurs life.  Overjoyed, Friga pronounced that mistletoe should be used to bring love into the world, not joy.  Two people passing under the mistletoe celebrated Baldhurs resurrection by kissing under it.

Anglo Saxons associated mistletoe with the goddess of love and fertility Freya. If a man found a girl accidentally stood under a sprig of mistletoe he would kiss her. A berry was plucked after the kiss and when all the berries were gone there was no more kissing.

In eighteenth century England a young lady standing under the mistletoe could not refused to be kissed.  It was believed that the kiss was a start of a deep romance or lasting friendship.  However, if the girl remained unkissed she would not marry that year.

It is clear that today's tradition is influenced by all of these past rituals. So go on, grab some mistletoe and go find that kiss!
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