There is a tradition of kissing under the Mistletoe at Christmas, but few people understand just why we do this, or where the tradition comes from. In fact, some people do not know anything about Mistletoe, the plant, in general.
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant. It does not grow in the ground like most plants, instead it grows up in the branches of other trees and shrubs. They are evergreen and in addition to their own photosynthesis, they tap into the other plant for nutrients and water. In abundance they can kill their host plant, although that is not the intent.
Mistletoe, particularly European Mistletoe, is known to have poisonous qualities, causing diarrhea and stomach upset if ingested by humans, however the berries are regularly eaten by birds, and in this way their seeds are spread from tree to tree (in the bird feces).
Mistletoe bares its fruit, clumps of white berries, around the winter solstice, roughly December 22.
Because this plant is an evergreen the ancient pagans, and specifically the druids, considered it special, it stayed green when most other plants appeared to die in winter. They had the custom of bringing various evergreen boughs into their homes around winter solstice. Additionally because Mistletoe had no roots in the ground, and grew completely unattached from the earth, it was considered magical. Of all the properties assigned, Mistletoe was thus associated with aiding fertility. Kissing under the Mistletoe snuck into tradition at this time.
Although few specifics of the ceremony are known, kissing under the Mistletoe may have formed an important part of Pagan marriage rituals. They specifically sought Mistletoe that grew in Oak trees, as they thought it has been brought to the tree through the power of lightening so was very special indeed.
The Anglo-Saxons connected the plant to Freya, the goddess of love and fertility. They too brought the plant into their homes. As well they had the tradition that kissing under it was expected.
Throughout the ages the custom of kissing under the Mistletoe took many forms, in some parts of Europe it was considered as a promise to marry, as well as the prediction of a happy marriage, probably one full with the blessings of children.
Today much of the ancient meaning behind a kiss under the Mistletoe was lost, and many people kiss under it on Christmas, or New Years Day, with no knowledge of the fertility rites associated with the plant.
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