Mistletoe has no roots of its own and lives off the tree to which it attaches itself. Without that tree it would die. Mistletoe was thought to be sacred by ancient Europeans. Druid priests used it in their sacrifices to the gods while
Celtic people felt it possessed miraculous healing powers. In fact, in the Celtic language mistletoe means "all-heal."
It was thought to not only cure diseases, but also to render poisons harmless, make humans and animals prolific,
keep one safe from witchcraft, and protect houses from ghosts. Mistletoe was thought to bring good luck to anyone privileged to have it.
Druid Mistletoe Myth
The Druids considered mistletoe to be a sacred plant
and believed it had miraculous properties which could cure illnesses, serve as an antidote against poisons, ensure fertility and protect against the ill effects of witchcraft.
Whenever enemies met under the mistletoe in the forest,
they had to lay down their arms and observe a truce until the next day. From this has seemingly come the ancient custom of hanging a ball of mistletoe from the ceiling and exchanging kisses under it as a sign of friendship and goodwill.
Norse Mistletoe Myth
Norsemen offer us a beautiful symbolic myth about mistletoe. The story goes that Mistletoe was the sacred plant of Frigga, goddess of love and the mother of Balder, the god of the summer sun. Balder had a dream of death which greatly alarmed his mother,
for should he die, all life on earth would end.
In an attempt to keep this from happening, Frigga went at once to air, fire, water, earth, and every animal and plant seeking a promise that no harm would come to her son.
Balder now could not be hurt by anything on earth or under the earth. But Balder had one enemy, Loki, god of evil and he knew of one plant that Frigga had overlooked in her quest to keep her son safe. It grew neither on the earth nor under ground, but on the trees.
It was lowly mistletoe. So Loki made an arrow tip of the mistletoe, gave to the blind god of winter, Hoder, who shot it, striking Balder dead. The sky paled and all things in earth and heaven wept for the sun god.
For three days each element tried to bring Balder back to life.
He was finally restored by Frigga, his mother. It is said the tears she shed for her son turned into the pearly white berries on the mistletoe plant and in her joy Frigga kissed everyone who passed beneath the tree on which it grew.
The story ends with a decree that who should ever stand under the humble mistletoe, no harm should befall them, only a kiss, a token of love.
English Mistletoe Myth
The eighteenth-century English credited mistletoe not with miraculous healing powers, but with a certain social appeal in the form of a "kissing ball. At Christmas time a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe,
brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, cannot refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained unkissed, she cannot expect to marry the following year.
Whether we believe it or not, it always makes for fun and frolic at Christmas celebrations.
Anglo-Saxon Mistletoe Myth
Anglo-Saxons believed the custom of kissing under mistletoe was connected to the legend of Freya, goddess of love, beauty and fertility.
According to legend, a man had to kiss any young girl
who, without realizing it, found herself accidentally under a sprig of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling.
Modern Day Mistletoe
Even if the pagan significance has been long forgotten, the custom of exchanging a kiss under the mistletoe can still be found in many European countries as well as in Canada and the United States.
In some regions, if a couple in love exchanges a kiss under the mistletoe, it is interpreted as a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life.
In France, the custom linked to mistletoe was reserved for New Year's Day: "Au gui l'An neuf"
(Mistletoe for the New Year).
Today, kisses can be exchanged under the mistletoe any time during the holiday season.