The Origins Of Kissing Under Mistletoe

Mistletoe. You know what it is. People tie together a few sprigs of leafy mistletoe and hang it up at the top of the doorframe. Any two people to stand under it are supposed to kiss. Obviously, there should be consent (there's always that creepy guy at the office with mistletoe in his pocket for some reason). But at parties and homes, mistletoe is a great symbol and practice of peace and harmony among friends and family. So why is kissing under a mistletoe a thing? Why does such a tradition take place during the winter holidays? Lucky for you, sometimes we "kiss-and-tell":


Ancient  Symbol of Vivacity

The usage of mistletoe goes pretty far back in history. There are (albeit vague) records that Greeks, Babylonians, and Druids were using the plant for similar, yet different purposes. The Greeks thought mistletoe was a medicinal plant, used it to treat different common ailments, and even thought it was an aphrodisiac (a modern warning: the white berries on some mistletoe plants are actually poisonous)! The Babylonians also thought the mistletoe would benefit relationships, so sprigs were hung above the opening of the goddess of love temple and for any single woman visiting the temple and wanting a mate, if a man passed under the mistletoe next, the two should get friendly. The Druids, out of the three, were perhaps the most extreme. They thought mistletoe was incredibly special, because mistletoe is able to bloom and stay green even in harsh winters, and they had a whole ritual for the plant–white robes, a special tool, animal sacrifice, the whole shebang–in hopes that it could bring fertility to people and livestock.

Norse Mythology

The Norse myths are probably more directly connected to our modern practice with mistletoe. The myth centers on Baldr, son of Odin and Frigg, who is the god of light, purity, forgiveness, and the like. Baldr began having dreams of his mysterious death and began to grieve. So his mother, wanting to protect his son, went to all living things (plants, animals, the elements) and pleaded that they not inflict any harm upon him. She may or may not have overlooked/forgot to visit mistletoe, which Loki, the trickster god, took advantage of. Then, when it seemed to all the gods that the beloved Baldr was seemingly invincible to everything thrown at him, an arrow made of mistletoe and fashioned by Loki struck the god of light dead.

The aftermath is a bit hazy: the gods may have been able to resurrect Baldr or the resurrection attempt of Baldr was botched by Loki and Baldr returned after Ragnarok. But it was Frigg, saddened by the death of Baldr, who took the arrow made of the plant she overlooked/forgotten and proclaimed how the mistletoe should never be ignored again. In memory of Baldr, she announced that all those who pass under mistletoe should kiss one another and promote peace, not violence and war.  The myths were eventually adopted by Christians and were made popular by the 18th century in Europe. So if you bring mistletoe to parties and your home, it is a hilarious and sometimes uncomfortable activity to kiss another person because of the mistletoe. But know that you're partaking in a thousands of years worth of a promotion of peace.