Like so many of our holiday traditions, kissing under the mistletoe isn’t a new idea. Mistletoe played a vital role in so many societies before our own, leading it to become the symbol of love it is today.
While the plant is best known for its romantic side, it has been prized since the ancient times. The Greeks used it as a medicinal herb for all sorts of illnesses. It effects the nervous system, making it useful for treating pain. In Greece, it was used as a balm against epilepsy, ulcers, and poisons. Doctors even used it to treat spleen disorders! In the 1st century A.D., the Celts thought that, since the plant could grow during the winter, it could renew fertility.
The romantic element of the Mistletoe story originates in Norse mythology. Baldur, son of Odin and Frigg, was prophesied to die, so Frigg went out and secured contracts from all living beings assuring they wouldn’t harm Baldur. Loki noticed she overlooked mistletoe and made an arrow out of it. The shot killed Baldur, but Frigg wouldn’t give up on her son. She and the other gods found a way to revive Baldur, and an overjoyed Frigg declared the plant a sign for love.
From there mistletoe’s legend spread and grew throughout the Middle Ages. It started to be utilized as a Christmas decoration in 18th century England. From there, the servant class began the tradition of kissing beneath it. The romantic gesture quickly spread to the middle class and became a Christmas staple, however different social circles had different variations on the idea.
There were several ways the tradition was incorporated. Some groups allowed men to kiss from any woman standing beneath the mistletoe. Refusing was viewed as bad luck. For more eager folks, each person would pick and eat one berry before going in for another kiss. Once all the berries were eaten, the pair would stop smooching.
It’s always fascinating to take a look back on the origins of our favorite holiday traditions. This year we’ll be diving into plenty of Christmas lore, so stay tuned for more fun Christmas stories!