“Oh ho the mistletoe, hung where you can see. Somebody waits for you, kiss her once for me.”
Burl Ives sung those words in “Holly Jolly Christmas” and we sing them right along with him. But what is mistletoe and why do we gather under in hopes of getting a holiday kiss from someone special?
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which perches on a tree branch and absorbs nutrients from the trunk – hardly one of the most romantic forms of life. But it has been inspiring people to go under it for generations. Mistletoe has a large mythological background across many cultures.
The Greeks believed that Aeneas, the famous ancestor of the Romans carried a sprig of mistletoe in the form of the legendary golden bough. In Eddic tradition, mistletoe was the only thing able to kill the god Baldur, since it had not sworn an oath to leave him alone. Amongst other pre-Christian cultures, mistletoe was believed to carry the male essence, and by extension, romance, fertility, and vitality.
Its use as decoration stems from the fact that it was believed to protect homes from fire and lightning. It was commonly hung at Christmas time only to remain there all year until being replaced by another sprig next Christmas.
The process by which mistletoe became associated with kissing is part of a legend. As the legend goes, Balder was killed by an evil spirit with an arrow made of mistletoe. Saddened by her son’s death, Frigga wept tears of white berries, which brought Balder back to life. Frigga was so overjoyed that she blessed the plant and promised a kiss to all who passed beneath it.
Whatever the origin, don’t forgot to hang some mistletoe this season, for a chance to steal a kiss from that special someone.