Why do we kiss under mistletoe?

Monica Glynn, my work friend and The Wave’s Administrative Associate, asked me last week knowing I’m a “plant person,” “What’s the history of mistletoe?” Umm… I actually have know idea,” I said. We both thought, “This would be a timely column.”

I remember the mistletoe in my home growing up as a kid. It wasn’t fancy, the exact opposite actually. Our mistletoe was a round ball made of hard plastic leaves and red berries. It had a vine of more plastic leaves that my father would hang from the light fixture in our kitchen. Why the kitchen and not the traditional doorway location? I’m guessing we had the most foot traffic in the kitchen and so, that would be the easiest location to snag multiple kisses!

On my quest to answer Monica’s question about the significance of mistletoe, I learned from the almighty internet the most interesting of facts that reveal the plant’s symbolism.

Mistletoe is an obligate hemiparasitic plant – meaning a parasitic organism that lives on host plants. So it can’t reproduce without its host. In this case, mistletoe is keen on apple, oak, maple, elm, pine, and birch trees.

Mistletoe is an evergreen, producing berries in the winter. They’re quite attractive, revealing themselves on bare trees and against white snow. Celtic Druids of the 1st century A.D. believed that this plant’s ability to produce its fruit despite frozen winter temperatures was a sign of fertility. So they used mistletoe medicinally on themselves and animals. So many Christian traditions are founded on pagan mysticism and this too is one of them, in a modified form.

There are other references to the origins of the luck and love mistletoe bestows in Norse folklore. How these ancient customs extended to modern day is up for debate. The custom continued through the Middle Ages in various forms to the 18th century, transforming from sacred herb to a holiday decoration.

It is thought that the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe started among servants in England before extending to the middle classes. It is said that men were allowed to steal a kiss from anyone caught under the herb and if the women refused, it was bad luck. I wonder who came up with that one…

father christmas rockaway beach

My friend Matt Johnson adorned his St. Nicholas garb for a caroling event this past weekend. Mistletoe would have been perfect for his beard and staff but his adornments are beautiful nonetheless.

Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year filled with love and good fortune!

tagged in christmas, plants