The curious history of mistletoe

The curious history of mistletoe
Have you ever stopped to wonder why it is that people exchange kisses under the mistletoe? (Source: Pixabay)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Have you ever stopped to wonder why it is that people exchange kisses under the mistletoe? No? Well that’s okay. Still, though, the history and folklore behind the event extend deep into history.

According to history.com, the history of mistletoe extends as far back as ancient Greek and Roman history, but the romantic meaning behind mistletoe goes back to 1 A.D. and the Celtic Druids.

Druids, according to Encyclopedia Britannica pre-date 3rd century BCE, and were a group of Celts who often went into oak forests. They were priests, teachers and judges.

Mistletoe is a parasite that grows on apple, oak, and other trees, and because it could grow in the winter, the Druids saw it as a sacred symbol of vivacity.

Mistletoe also has ties to Norse mythology, history.com says. In one story, Odin’s son Baldur is prophesied to die, and so his mother Frigg, the goddess of love, went to all the animals and plants of the world to “secure an oath” that they would not warn him. But as the story goes, Frigg forgot to consult mistletoe and thus Loki, the god of mischief, makes an arrow from the plant and shoots it at Baldur, striking him and killing him.

Another versions of the tale, most likely the version we derive our custom from, says that the gods are able to resurrect Baldur from the dead and Frigg then declares mistletoe a symbol of love and vowed to plant a kiss on all those who pass beneath it.

As history.com states, the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe likely comes from servants in England before it spread to the middle class. National Geographic dates the custom back to the 18th century at least.

The custom was that men were allowed to steal a kiss from any woman caught standing under the mistletoe plant. Refusing the kiss was viewed as bad luck. Another part of the custom was to pluck a berry from the plant and exchange a kiss for each berry until all the berries were gone.

Just how did the custom make its way into Christmas decorations? It’s unclear. History.com says the plant had become a part of Christmas decorations in the 18th century.

Whychristmas.com says the custom almost didn’t make it over to Western Europe. Apparently, some tried to ban mistletoe as a decoration in churches. York Minister Church in the United Kingdom used to hold Mistletoe Service in the winter, where wrong doers could come and be pardoned.

So why do we hang it in our houses? It’s not just to steal a kiss at a party or from your loved one. This too could be attributed to the Druids. The Druids believed mistletoe possessed mystical powers which brought good luck to the household and held off evil spirits, whychristmas.com says.

Fun fact. According to National Geographic, mistletoe’s berries are not red. The pop culture myth often displays mistletoe as having red berries, but - in fact - that’s actually holly. The berries that extend off the ends of mistletoe are actually white, or a translucent color.

So if you’re standing around at an ugly Christmas party looking to strike up a conversation, you can always share this one as you share a cup of egg nog with your fellow friends.

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