One of Santa’s favorite traditions around Christmas time—and surely a favorite tradition of men everywhere during Christmas —is that of mistletoe. When a man catches his wife or special someone under the mistletoe, he gets to plant a kiss on her. Of course, with all other Christmas traditions, this wonderful habit is almost as old as the snow that falls around Christmas time.
It actually all started with an ancient myth from the Nordic people of Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Hundreds of years ago, the goddess Frigga had a son named Balder who was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe. Frigga was so sad that her son died, that she cried and cried, but instead of tears, white berries poured down her cheeks. These were no ordinary white berries, and they actually worked to bring Balder back to life by stripping the poison from the mistletoe. That made Frigga so happy that she blessed all mistletoe, and anyone walking underneath it was given a free kiss.
Of course, the Nordic folks were not the only ancient people who used and believed in the magical powers of mistletoe. The ancient Druids of the United Kingdom were big fans of the evergreen plant, and would distribute it to all the people in their villages. They would hang the plant over the front door of their homes, because they believed that the plant would protect them from evil spirits, goblins, and even thunder and lightning. Druids also believed that mistletoe stood for peace, so if Druid warriors ever met underneath a patch of mistletoe in the forest, they could not fight. They would call a truce and meet somewhere else to fight.
Put all of these traditions and beliefs together—and then mix in the traditions of Christmas and Santa Claus—and you have what would become today’s modern tradition surrounding mistletoe and kisses.
It was not that simple for guys and gals and the magical mistletoe in the 1700s. Back then, kissing was a very serious thing to do with a girl. There was no spin the bottle or truth or dare. If you kissed a girl under the mistletoe, you meant business. Basically, a kiss under the mistletoe meant you were prepared to marry her. On the flip side, if a girl stood under mistletoe at Christmas time and no man kissed her, that meant she would stay unmarried for the entire next year. But the lucky man who would be brave and kiss her could expect a lasting friendship, a deep romance, and happiness with the lucky woman.
We cannot know for sure if this is how good old Saint Nick got proposed to Mrs. Claus, but we can be sure that the jolly old man hangs a piece of mistletoe in his home in the North Pole. Come to think of it, he probably also hangs a bunch of mistletoe in the reindeer barn, the toy factory, and anywhere else Mrs. Claus might find herself!
Mistletoe The Plant – Is It Good or Bad?
Is mistletoe the plant good for anything other than “getting caught” under? Visions of Christmas cheer, festivities, and kisses pop into our heads when we think of mistletoe. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe started long ago… where a berry would be taken off the sprig every time a kiss was exchanged. But there’s much more to this green, leathery sprig than you might think.
Mistletoe is the name for a group of parasitic plants. They have no true roots, and attach themselves to trees for survival. Mistletoe lives off the host tree – without it, the plant would die.
Mistletoe the plant is quite the vagabond. It is spread around by birds that eat the mistletoe’s red and white berries. A sticky pulp within each berry contains the mistletoe seed. The pulp oozes from the bird’s beak and fastens to a tree’s branches. Seeds can also be transported from one tree branch to another by the bird’s droppings.
Mistletoe – The Notorious Plant
The mistletoe plant has had an interesting bout with its reputation, both good and bad. Many people, usually those having trees that are burdened by this plant, think of mistletoe as a destructive nuisance. The plants draw water and minerals from the trees, and during a drought this can be quite devastating. Mistletoe infestation often results in deformities of the tree’s branches.
Pruning the infested tree is helpful, if the amount of mistletoe is small. For an overwhelming infestation, the only real remedy is to remove the tree. At the very least, cutting out the parasite itself will reduce its spread somewhat. The mistletoe will eventually grow back. Unfortunately, the chemicals that will destroy mistletoe are harmful to the host trees.
Is mistletoe a hazard? Yes, to varying degrees. Contact with the berries can cause a rash very much like poison ivy to people who are sensitive to it. Many mistletoe plants are also poisonous to small children and pets. Typically, ingestion of enough mistletoe causes stomach and intestinal irritation with diarrhea. Slow pulse and lowered blood pressure can also occur.
Mistletoe – The Honorable Plant
Historically speaking, mistletoe has enjoyed a high reputation of bringing about good luck and prosperity. The ancient Europeans considered mistletoe to be a sacred plant. Scandinavian countries believed that if armies were at war where mistletoe was overhead, the fighting would stop. In Greece, it was believed mistletoe would bring fertility and abundant life to newlyweds. The Druids used the plant for sacrifice, and Celts thought mistletoe had great healing powers.
Mistletoe has been a long-time favorite of herbalists and natural healers in Asia and Europe. The extract from mistletoe the plant (not its berries) has been used for treating conditions such as cancer, respiratory ailments, circulatory problems and epilepsy. The parts of the mistletoe plant used for therapy are the leaves and developing twigs.
According to the National Cancer Institute, laboratory and animal studies have been conducted with mistletoe. The findings suggest that mistletoe may enhance the immune system. However, few studies on humans have been done.
Although there is a good deal of information about mistletoe’s ability to affect the immune system, there is no scientific evidence yet stating that this heightened immunity leads to increased destruction of cancer cells.
All in all, the mistletoe plant has emerged victorious from such a diverse background. Today, the Christmas tradition of the mistletoe plant has sparked its market value and popularity. Just remember to keep it out of reach of pets and little ones… and when the mistletoe berries run out, so do the kisses.