This Is Why We Kiss Under the Mistletoe at Christmas

Here's how mistletoe became the official plant of Christmas pecks.

young white couple kissing under mistletoe
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Trimming trees with colorful ornaments and decking the halls with boughs of holly are holiday staples, but there's yet another yuletide greenery tradition—albeit a more polarizing one—that crops up this time of year: the kiss under the mistletoe.

If you find yourself standing next to someone under a sprig of the stuff, traditionally hung from doorframes, you might be on the receiving end of a smooch. However, long before the plant became associated specifically with kissing during the holidays, it had an entirely different reputation. So, why do we kiss under the mistletoe at Christmas?

According to Ronald Hutton, author of Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain, the Druids believed that mistletoe had medicinal properties, and used the plant in healing rituals. In particular, it was believed that drinking a concoction made from mistletoe could restore fertility to animals that had been unable to breed—and it may be this association with fertility that's connected the plant to displays of affection all these years later. The Druids were also said to make peace under mistletoe, greeting one another under trees bearing the parasitic plant on its branches in celebration of the new year.

But according to Leonard P. Perry, PhD, a horticulture professor emeritus at the University of Vermont, that's not the only association between mistletoe and love. In Norse mythology, Baldr, the god of peace, was killed by a projectile formed from mistletoe. Baldr was so beloved among the gods that every creature in the world—with the exception of Loki, the trickster god who caused Baldr's death—wept in an effort to bring him back to the land of the living.

While Baldr's ultimate fate depends on which version of the myth you read, in some, Baldr is revived, and his mother, the goddess Frigg, decides that mistletoe will be revered in the world of the gods as a symbol of peace and love, rather than death, according to Mistletoe.org.

So, if you find someone trying to convince you to stand under a sprig of mistletoe with them this holiday season, you've got barren cows and dead gods to thank—or maybe they just think you're cute.

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