Monday, December 18, 2017

The Mistletoe Mystery by Sarah J. McNeal

Kissing under the mistletoe is a Christmas tradition that‘s been around for as long as I can remember. The obligatory kiss could be the start of something positively wonderful. Of course, mistletoe had to be avoided at all costs if someone you found obnoxious or repugnant seemed determined to get you under that poisonous greenery.

The question is, how in the world did this tradition get started and, of all the botanical choices for such an otherwise romantic tradition, why would a poisonous, parasitic plant be chosen to kiss under? Well here is some history into the mistletoe mystery:
Way back in the misty beginnings of human culture, some groups of people believed mistletoe had magical properties that had to do with fertility, vivaciousness, some people thought it an aphrodisiac. I’m wondering why humans came up with love remedies with the most contrary or repulsive things like raw oysters and now mistletoe to get their game on. No one ever said humans were all that logical though so let me proceed.

A Druid

The ancient Druids were among the first to attach a tradition with mistletoe. They believed mistletoe, especially the rare species that lived high in the branches of oak trees, must have sacred powers including healing powers, protection against nightmares, and could even assist in the prediction of the future. So, the Druids collected the toxic plant during the summer and winter solstices. They even decorated their houses with it at Christmastime even though they, of course, were not Christian.

Kissing under the mistletoe started in ancient Greece during the festival of Saturnalia and, later, it was used in marriage ceremonies since mistletoe was associated with fertility. The Romans would reconcile their differences with their enemies of war under mistletoe and would decorate their houses with it in midwinter to please their gods. I guess you can see where we’re going with the history of mistletoe toward our present day tradition.

Nordic Goddess of Love, Frigga

There is also a Nordic myth involving mistletoe that provides even more clues into the evolution of mistletoe as a kissing plant. Mistletoe was the sacred plant of the Nordic goddess of love, Frigga. 
Loki, Nordic God of Mischief

Loki, the god of mischief (I’ve seen enough Thor movies to get what our friend Loki was capable of) shot Frigga’s son with a spear or an arrow which some say was made from mistletoe. Frigga was able to revive her son under the mistletoe tree and, afterward, decreed anyone who stands under the mistletoe tree deserves not only protection, but a kiss as well.

Victorian Couple Kissing Under the Mistletoe

And now we come to the final movement in the evolution if the mistletoe and the kiss with the Victorian era. I just have to say here, for a bunch of prissy and restricted social norms developed by the Victorians, they sure did come up with some fascinating ways around all that prim and proper social etiquette. Just sayin’…

Naturally, the Victorians in England considered kissing under the mistletoe serious business. If a man’s kiss was refused, the girl was doomed not to receive any marriage proposals for the next year and many people would even snub their noses at her and make comments abut her ending up an old maid. Isn’t it funny how men always come up with something that is advantageous only for them? Some gentlemen would ask a kiss for each berry they plucked, but I think this is just a way to take advantage of those straight-laced Victorian ladies.

Foxy Modern Mistletoe Kissing

Anyway, today we keep the whole kissing under the mistletoe a bit more lighthearted. The couple gets one kiss if they find themselves under the mistletoe whether by design or by accident.

A final note…keep in mind that the mistletoe berries are poisonous and not for human consumption unless you want stomach cramps and vomiting. I wonder if birds eat those berries. If they don’t, how do they know those berries are poisonous? 

Diverse stories filled with heart


  1. Sarah, very interesting background on kissing under the mistletoe. I didn't know how the custom began.

    1. I didn't know how the kissing part happened either, Caroline, until I decided to research it.
      Thank you so much for commenting.

  2. Interesting, Sarah. An arrow made of mistletoe. Hmm, interesting. Enjoyed your research!

  3. You planning something devious with that mistletoe arrow, Linda? LOL
    Happy Holidays...and careful with that mistletoe.
    I appreciate you dropping in to comment.

  4. Ahh, so that's how the mistletoe became a kissing plant. Very interesting. Mistletoe grow here in Central Texas on the plain old mesquite trees. I will go out tomorrow and see if we have any this year. In past years, I would gather some, tie it up with a red velvet ribbon and hang it on the old oak fence posts...quite pretty.
    Interesting there are so many stories about how it came to be associated with romance. Thanks! Perfect post for the season, and I don't recall anyone else writing about it. Great photos, too.

    1. Your decoration idea with mistletoe and ribbon sounds so pretty. Here in North Carolina the mistletoe grows high up in the oak trees, so it's quite a challenge to get it down. Naturally, guys like to shoot it down with guns.
      It is difficult coming up with a fresh subject every month, especially western historical subjects. It does make me happy to know I wrote something no one has done yet.
      Thank you for coming, Celia.

  5. Sarah, that's OK's state plant--or used to be. When I was growing up, kids would raise money for Christmas by climbing trees and getting mistletoe, then cutting off a small sprig of it and putting it in plastic wrap and going door-to-door to sell it for the holidays. Really enjoyed your post. I didn't know the history of it!

    1. Cheryl, I had no idea. mistletoe is the state plant for Oklahoma. That is such an interesting tidbit.
      What a great idea the kids had for getting mistletoe and selling it. They were industrious little entrepreneurs.
      Thanks so much for coming.

  6. I didn't know the history behind kissing under the mistletoe. How interesting history can be!

    As for today's mistletoe, the reason why people shoot it with a shotgun from those high branches is that it's easier to harvest and it won't ruin the plants' delicate roots. Thus assuring a harvest next year. (It does NOT harm the host tree.)

    The berries are not poisonous to birds! In fact, they must digest the berry with the seed. Then after the seed goes through their system, the bird must deposit it into a crack in a tree's bark. It's a real hit or miss job. :-) The seed will sprout roots and start another plant. Unfortunately man has not figured out how to reproduce a bird's stomach or digestive track. So we're completely dependent on nature to reproduce fertile seed.

    It is poisonous to our pets. And just as poisonous to humans. But one thing I do know is that often a little of something is just fine but too much will kill you. Maybe back when we were dependent on the medicine from plants, someone figured out just how much... I certainly never want to mess with anything that is known to be poisonous. Remember quite a few of our houseplants are poisonous. If you have pets, consider them before you buy that pretty houseplant on sale.

    I'll stick with the beautiful silk mistletoe with plastic berries. (Oh, these artificial berries are choking hazards for small children. We live dangerous lives, don't we?)

    Thank you, Sarah, for such an interesting post.

    1. Great information, E., and I particularly liked the part about the bird seed distribution.
      I am certain there are many young men who enjoy shooting the mistletoe down...just because it's there, but it's good to know they are actually helping to preserve the growth of the mistletoe.
      I once lived in a house with extremely poisonous Lily of the Valley growing by the steps to the kitchen door. Fortunately, my dog couldn't get to them because the fenced in yard did not include that area. My previous Golden Retriever, Kate, ate everything in the backyard including a thorny rosebush and a fragrant olive bush along with a pair of glasses, a cell phone, and a pin cushion. It's a wonder she survived puppyhood.
      It was so nice to have you come by and include all that good information in your comment. I enjoyed reading it. Thank you.

  7. Sarah, very interesting history of mistletoe. I knew the use of it at the winter solstice dated back to pagan times, but not all the fascinating details. Also didn't know the plant is poisonous. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Lyn, I am so happy you came by and read my blog. Much of this information was new to me as well until I researched it. Learning things is part of the fun of writing and reading blogs.
      Thank you for coming.

  8. Actually I wrote about mistletoe on our blog last December, but as Celia has said, always can learn more on any given subject when written differently. Enjoyed your article just as much, Sarah.

    1. Thank you for bringing it to my attention that you wrote about mistletoe last year, Cheri. My apologies for choosing mistletoe for my Christmas subject this year. Try though we all may to write about a new subject, it is difficult to do so during a holiday since most aspects of the holiday have most likely already been addressed.


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