Why Do We Kiss Under the Mistletoe?

Stealing a kiss under the mistletoe wasn't always strictly a Christmas tradition

There are so many meaningful Christmas symbols and wonderful Christmas traditions around the world that people enjoy every holiday season. After all, what is Christmas without exchanging gifts or eating candy canes? One tradition that can be hit or miss, however, is hanging mistletoe. Some people love it, while others try to avoid the embarrassment of a forced kiss. Eating sugar cookies and drinking eggnog may sound more fun than smooching in front of your grandma! Whether you want mistletoe for romantic reasons or just to jazz up your Christmas decoration ideas, read on for the history of the mistletoe kiss.

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Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?

Regardless of how you feel about it, kissing under the mistletoe is a holiday tradition. But with or without the holiday context, it might seem a little, well, odd, to kiss someone under a plant. Although mistletoe closely ties with Christmas, it stems from both Norse mythology and Greek and Roman medicine.

Mistletoe has been a symbolically important plant for centuries in several cultures, and it’s long been believed to have medicinal properties. The Greeks used mistletoe to cure everything from cramps to spleen issues, while the Romans turned the plant into a balm for ulcers, poisons and seizures. The plant’s association with romance has its roots with the Celtic Druids (well before the origin of the actual mistletoe kiss). Impressed that the healing plant blossomed even in the cold of winter, the Druids thought it symbolized vitality and could restore fertility.

Another association of mistletoe with love is from Norse mythology. Legend says that Loki, the trickster god, used an arrow made of mistletoe to kill Baldur, the son of chief god Odin. Baldur’s mother Frigg, the goddess of love, was distraught over her son’s death. Happily, some versions of the legend hold that Baldur was later resurrected from the dead. In joy over her son’s return, Frigg vowed as the goddess of love that she would kiss anyone who passed the plant, a symbol of love. This is probably where the mistletoe kiss began! For more Christmas legends, read up on the origin of Christmas trees and why poinsettias are the official Christmas flower.

How did kissing under the mistletoe become a Christmas tradition?

Ties with fertility and love stuck with the plant through the 18th century. These associations were easily incorporated into Christmas celebrations. The mistletoe kiss as a Christmas tradition reportedly started with lower-class servants in England, before becoming more widely popular and catching on with the middle classes. Some people think the sticky seeds that cling to the plant are symbolic of a kiss. And with its green leaves and white or red berries, the plant also shows off festive Christmas colors!

Is it good luck to kiss under the mistletoe?

Versions of the mistletoe kiss tradition have changed throughout the years. One says couples who kiss should also take a berry from the mistletoe with each kiss; when the berries run out for the evening, so do the kisses. Another version says that refusing a kiss under the mistletoe is bad luck. If you don’t want to risk it, pucker up! If you’re superstitious, check out these surprising things you didn’t know were considered bad luck.

Sources:

  • History.com: “Why Do We Kiss Under the Mistletoe?”
  • Today: “Why do people kiss under the mistletoe?”

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Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.