I’ve always thought that kissing under the mistletoe was a mysterious (but worthwhile) tradition, and I’ve done some research to try to better understand this plant and why it demands we make out. As it turns out, mistletoe didn’t always insist we hang it and hook up underneath it.
So where did this mistletoe thing come from? Those who have glanced through the Bible may be familiar with Matthew 16:19 (which includes some of Jesus’ parting words before going to heaven after the Resurrection) which goes a lil somethin’ like dis: “I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven; and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.” The next sentence wasn’t, “Oh, and thou should hang mistletoe above thy door and get sloppy under it.” Didn’t happen. So why do Christians do it? I’m sorry to say that I don’t have the answer, but here is a bit of mistletoe’s journey through history.
1. Mistletoe was once regarded as a symbol of fertility
Way back when, mistletoe was seen as a symbol of fertility and whatnot, so one can easily understand why people started tacking it up on door jams and getting hickies under it.
2. Mistletoe is poisonous
Huh. Referencing Batman Returns a lot lately…
Mistletoe is not the sort of thing I’d keep around the house, but then, I could always use a kiss from the Dr. Girlfriend. It’s not like you can eat mistletoe, so the only reason to keep it around is to get your freak on. I’m pretty sure it will make you sick and if you eat too much, it could even kill you. Ironically, the ancient Celts considered mistletoe to be an antidote to poison. I guess when it didn’t work, they’d just shook their head and remarked, “If only we’d given him the mistletoe tea sooner!” They should have contacted Batman – Batman knows mistletoe is poisonous!
3. Mistletoe pops up all over the place in Greek Mythology
Here’s just one instance: In the Greek epic The Golden Bough, the hero must journey to the underworld to see his father, but first, he must get the golden bough (which folks believe is actually mistletoe) to give as a gift to the queen of the underworld, because she presumably wants to make out with her husband, Pluto.
4. Mistletoe pops up in Norse Mythology, too
If you’ve seen the movies Thorand The Avengers, then you’re familiar with Loki, the Norse God of mischief. Not to be outdone by the Greeks, Loki somehow arranges the death of another god via mistletoe, but whether he’s killed by a mistletoe arrow or a mistletoe sword is unclear to me. So did they just scratch the dude and let the poison do the work, or did they straight up kill him and use poisonous wood just to make sure they got the job done? Loki knows…
5. Mistletoe is only a tradition with English-speaking Christians
The earliest documented case of kissing under the mistletoe dates back to the 16th century in England. The tradition has spread throughout the English-speaking world, but non-English speaking cultures rarely practice the kissing under the mistletoe tradition. I guess non-English speaking Christians don’t like having poisonous plants around the house.
6. There are at least two types of Mistletoe
Depending on where you live, you’ll be able to buy one species of mistletoe or another – but there are at least two: Viscum album is found in Europe and Phoradendron serotinum is found in North America. So at least two ways to die via Christmas on two continents – AWESOME!