Only once a year we are all reminded of that obligatory ritual of kissing under the mistletoe during the yuletide (Christmas) season. However very few question (or at all) why we are obliged to kiss when we find ourselves directly under that poisonous hanging parasitic shrub. Mistletoe is a flowering parasitic plant (angiosperms) that live off of other plants and trees, in addition to their photosynthesis capabilities.
The ancient Romans and Greeks are said to have started the tradition during the festival of Saturnalia during yuletide, which was the pagan feast that Christmas was superimposed upon. The plant was used by them in marriage ceremonies due to it’s association with fertility. The ancient Romans settled their feuds under the plant as it symbolized peace. The Romans in midwinter would adorn their houses and temples with mistletoe to please their gods.
In Norse mythology mistletoe was sacred to the goddess Frigga (the Norse goddess of love). Loki the god of mischief launched an arrow or spear (take your pick) made of mistletoe and killed her and Odin’s son Baldur. Having foreknowledge of Baldor’s death, Frigga made all the animals and plants promise not to harm her son in an effort to advert the prophecy. However she overlooked the mistletoe! In one version of this myth, Frigga (along with the help of the other Norse gods) was able to restore Baldor back to life under the mistletoe. Frigga declared that anyone who stands under the plant would be protected from death…..and deserving of a kiss!
In Victorian England the rite of kissing under the mistletoe was taken rather seriously.
If a girl was under the mistletoe and refused a kiss, she was not to get any marriage proposals for the next year! A gentleman should pick one berry while kissing a lady on the cheek, one berry must be picked for each kiss.
So the next time you find yourself under the threshold of this beautiful, and poisonous plant, remember that the Norse goddess of love is protecting you from death….and promises you a kiss!