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Mistletoe: you know it, and you may love it. Or hate it. Both are valid, quite honestly. Though mostly used as a trope in holiday movies, the tradition goes that once you fall under a spring of mistletoe, you’re forced to lock lips with the fellow victim ensnared in the trappings of the dinky twig. Fun times.
However, whether or not you think mistletoe is a vital part of a Christmas celebration, its origins hold some spice that your eggnog may lack.
What Are the Basics of Mistletoe?
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that attaches itself to other plants, mostly consisting of apple trees, oaks, and maples.
Mistletoes’ scientific name is Viscum Album, a species of mistletoe in the Santalacae family. Mistletoe is an evergreen plant, which means that it stays green all year.
In old English customs, people hung mistletoe over their doorways, and whoever passes under it are supposed to kiss. Could be romantic, could be creepy; just like everything in life, it’s all about perspective.
What is the History of Mistletoe?
In ancient times, Romans and pagans adorned their homes with mistletoe during their winter festivals. Mistletoe may have symbolized the promise of a new life or everlasting life to the ancient people.
The Roman custom of decorating with evergreens later passed into northern European Christmas celebrations.
100 years ago, the famous anthropologist George Frazer suggested that mistletoe was a very sacred plant to the ancient people, partly because he believed that its properties confused the ancient people.
Without the use of the science we now hold dear today, people kinda just saw everything that didn’t fit a pattern as having divine properties. During the winter, when everything had already turned brown, mottled, and dead, the scrawny plant that is mistletoe was there, bright and green, for the people to behold.
Since it is an evergreen plant, it stays green year-round. Because of this, mistletoe had an important role in their religious beliefs.
The awe that the plant evoked led them to believe that it held magical powers. To them, mistletoe resided in the realm between Earth and Heaven, earning a type of reverence similar to many other religious objects.
Old pagan priests treated the plants with great cautiousness. They harvested it with gold sickles and never let it touch the ground because it was so sacred.
As with most things, mistletoe came to represent more than just sanctity; it grew to be a symbol of good-will.
What are Mistletoe Traditions?
During wars, any enemies who stepped under mistletoe declared a day free from fighting.
In Scandinavia, mistletoe hung above a threshold represented an offer hospitality and friendship within, which, yeah, is cute.
Also, in medieval times church officials hung mistletoe above the high altar on Christmas Eve. This signified a pardon for wrongdoers as long as it was hung.
What Does Kissing Under Mistletoe Represent?
Kissing under the mistletoe supposedly came from old English customs. In old writing it says that the British loved to constantly kiss- which was weird, okay, I don’t really know how one determines what country enjoys kissing the most- so they naturally adopted the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.
No, really, though- how did these people conduct these observations? Was it just, like, a stereotype? “Oh, yeah, those Brits, always snogging!” That’s weird! I-
I don’t even know.
Writings also say that kissing under the mistletoe wasn’t practiced until the 18th century, so, hey, no one really knows for sure.
According to one belief, every time a boy kissed a girl under mistletoe, the boy would pick a berry off of it. Once all of the berries were picked, people couldn’t kiss under it anymore.
Now, this is funny. You see, I don’t know if these people were aware, but the berries of mistletoe are kinda, sort of, maybe, just a little bit poisonous. DON’T EAT MISTLETOE. DON’T DO IT.
It’s the forbidden snack, along with Tide Pods and bath bombs. Yummy.
For legal reasons, that’s a joke. Don’t ingest any of those.
Also, if you refused to kiss under the mistletoe, you would not be allowed to marry for a year. Other beliefs said if you refused to kiss, you wouldn’t be able to marry at all.
If the boy and girl didn’t marry, you would burn it after the twelfth day it was hung. But, some people kept it up to keep away evil spirits.
Some people believed that if you cut mistletoe after Christmas, it would bring bad luck.
All in all, mistletoe’s appearance at Christmas is somewhat of a mystery.
What is Mistletoe in Norse Mythology?
Norse mythology is one of the main pieces of why mistletoe is involved with Christmas.
In case you weren’t aware, Norse mythology is VIKINGS. Thor, Loki, Frigga, Odin- all of our favorites from Asgard. These myths have got everything from Thor impersonating a bride to trick a troll to Loki turning into a horse and BIRTHING A CHILD IT’S SO COOL I’M TELLING YOU.
Now, the Norse people had this story that began with the Sun God, Baldur, the child of Frigga, the Queen of the gods.
Baldur was beloved across the realms, known for his kind disposition and, you know, people sort of depend on the Sun. He was the Golden Child- and, yes, that was a joke. Please appreciate it.
Frigga made this grand gesture in the form of a promise of safety to Balder, ensuring that no beast of any kind would take her son away from her. However, as we’ve already established, mistletoe is a scrawny twig, so she didn’t bother with the whole pledge-of-undying-fidelity-spiel.
However, looming in the background of this joyous occasion was Loki, the Trickster God. Now, this guy had a blood oath with Odin, King of the Gods, for a reason never specified, so Loki’s just kinda vibing.
No one really liked him or wanted him there, but they couldn’t really make him leave, which is literally the byline to my existence.
But, as the name suggests, Loki is very much the antagonist of this story (spoilers, I know), and he saw an opening.
Like the petty creature he was, he crafted a spear of of mistletoe, the only material that could harm the god.
So, the gods are all out, celebrating and doing godly things and such, and Loki catches the attention of Baldur’s blind brother, Hodur.
The gods begin to play a game: they throw things at Baldur, laughing as the glance off of him, celebrating his supposed newfound invincibility. Honestly, they really should have seen this coming.
Well, I think you know where this is going.
Loki convinces the blind brother that the spear he has is just another object to use, and invites Hodur to attempt Baldur’s new fancy party trick.
Hodur threw the spear at Baldur, both literally and figuratively blind to the consequences. The spear, much to the horror of everyone around them, pierces Baldur, killing him instantly.
And Loki, being Loki, plays the flabbergasted party-goer- he had no idea what was going on. Why, he was all the way over there, but, oh goodness me, what a tragedy. You know, super sincere.
In one version of the story, Frigga was devastated that her son died and wept over the spear. The tears then turned into magical white berries which she placed onto Baldur’s wound.
And just like in Tangled, which is probably not the reference I should be making right now, he is brought back to life. Frigga then blessed mistletoe and promised a kiss to all who passed beneath it.
This Norse myth is said to have started the kissing under the mistletoe tradition.