You know the song “Ho ho the mistletoe/Hung where you can see/Somebody waits for you/Kiss her once for me”. Aside from a creepy vision of Burl Ives asking you to plant a wet one on your wife on his behalf, these lyrics bring to mind the question “why do people kiss under the mistletoe?”
The tradition originates in ancient Norse mythology. Balder, the Norse god of light and beauty, had a dream that foretold his own death. His mother, Frigga, the goddess of love, was frantic about his dream and said that if he died, everything on Earth would die. To ensure her son’s safety, Frigga went to all of the elements air, fire, water and earth, as well as to all of the animals and plants and asked them not to kill Balder. Loki, an evil and mischievous god referred to as the “contriver of all fraud”, found a loophole in Frigga’s request for her son’s safety mistletoe. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant and grows on the tree it attaches itself to, and therefore has no roots of its own and could not be affected by Frigga’s request. Loki made a poisoned spear with mistletoe. What’s worse, Loki tricked Balder’s blind brother, Hoder the winter god, into tossing the spear at Balder. Balder’s heart was pierced by the spear and he died.
For three days, all the elements tried their hardest to bring Balder back to life, but failed. Finally, the tears that Frigga cried for her dead son changed the red mistletoe berries to white, bringing Balder back from the dead. To show her gratitude, Frigga reversed mistletoe’s bad reputation, making it a symbol of love and promising to kiss anyone who passes under it.
Incidentally, the word “mistletoe” comes from the German Mist, meaning dung and Tang meaning branch. So mistletoe means “shit tree”, for its parasitic characteristics. Mistletoe also causes acute gastrointestinal problems, including stomach pain and diarrhea, if eaten.