Kissing under the mistletoe is a Christmas tradition as well-known as hanging stockings by the fireplace. Why do we kiss under the mistletoe? What is the story on this plant? Mistletoe is actually a parasitic plant that grows on hardwoods. It feeds off the nutrients of the host tree and grows. It stays green all year and grows in a variety of types. The name most likely comes from a translation of “bird droppings on a branch”. This could be from the way the plant spreads. Birds eat the berries and then their droppings on a branch root a new plant. Some believe it to have beneficial medicinal effects (like Suzanne Somers) and some believe it to be poisonous. This could be due to legend that the mistletoe was growing in the branches of the tree that was used to make the cross used to crucify Christ. Legend of the plant does not end there.
Druids in the early first century believed in the power of the plant to bring fertility to humans as well as animals and to provide healing to the ill. The Druids would harvest the plant in a ceremony that was held 5 days after the new moon following the winter solstice. Eighth century vikings believed in the power of mistletoe to raise the dead. This came from the tale of the resurrection of Balder, the Viking god of the summer sun. 18th century England fully embraced the practice of kissing under the plant. Washington Irving made reference to the kissing habit in one of his articles in 1820. Basic kissing etiquette requires that if the plant is present and you are under it you must kiss. Some practices call for the man to remove a berry each time a kiss is made under the plant until no berries are left. Kissing under the berries returns good luck and failure to smack lips will bring on the bad luck. A romantic couple who kiss under the mistletoe will find marriage and a long, happy life. A single woman who fails to kiss when passing under will remain single for another year. The single woman could put it under her pillow and then will dream of her perfect mate. A new couple can burn a bundle of the plant for a prediction of their future. A steady burn means a long healthy couple life. A stuttered or uneven burn means trouble in the future. You must also take care when removing the plant. Tradition dictates that it should not touch the ground and must he the last green removed on Candlemas. Some may keep it hanging all year to protect from lightning and fire, but it must be removed on Christmas Eve.
So why the kiss? No one really knows! It might be the connection to fertility with the druids, or maybe something with the mother of Balder who was a fertility goddess. Regardless of how it started, the tradition and all its cautions are alive and well in pop culture. Pucker up!