Christmas Trivia - Mistletoe
What is the origin of the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe?
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows from the branches of trees. Although mistletoe's leaves do some photosynthesis, it relies on its host for water and minerals.
Mistletoe has sticky seeds that are spread by birds. Once a mature mistletoe has established itself on a host tree, it is usually removed by pruning away the branch.
Although mistletoe may be slightly harmful to the host tree, it provides fruit and habitat that is significantly helpful to the ecosystem overall.
Mistletoe has long been considered a sacred plant with magical powers, and was mentioned in both Greek and Norse mythology.
Our ancestors' fascination most likely resulted from mistletoe's peculiar ability to remain green all year round, even though not rooted in the soil, and even when the trees upon which it grew went dormant in the winter -- as well as from the unusual color and consistency of the juice from the plant's white berries.
In pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was thought to represent male essence -- and thus could bring romance, fertility, and vitality. Mistletoe was considered an aphrodisiac, and a useful treatment for barrenness in animals, as well as an antidote to poison.
When Christianity become widespread in Europe after the 3rd century AD, the mystical Pagan respect for mistletoe was integrated into the new religion in a way that seems to have led to the widespread custom of kissing under the mistletoe during Christmas season.
The earliest documented cases of kissing under the mistletoe dates from 16th century Englad, at which time it was already a popular custom.
In 1820, American author Washington Irving wrote, "The mistletoe is hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked, the privilege ceases."