Botanically classified as a partial parasite, Mistletoe has the ability to grow on trees in addition to growing on its own. The plant, known for its green shrub-like appearance with small yellow flowers and white berries, is often associated with warding off evil spirits, fertility and life-bestowing powers.
Though the custom to kiss beneath the mistletoe originated in Pre-Christian Europe, the plant’s association with winter likely originated in Norse mythology. The legend revolves around pagan goddess Frigga, goddess of love and mother of Balder, god of the summer sun.
As the story goes: one night, Balder had a dream of death, which immediately sent his mother Frigga into a panic; for not only would she lose her son, but life on earth would fall into eternal darkness. Seeking to avoid such devastation, Frigga arranged for all elements and all animals and plants to promise never to harm Balder.
Unknown to Frigga, Balder had one enemy by the name of Loki, god of evil, who knew of one plant Frigga had forgotten in her effort to keep her son safe. The plant did not grow on earth or under earth, but grew instead on apple and oak trees, and was give the name, mistletoe. Loki made an arrow tip made of mistletoe and gave it to the blinded god of winter, who shot Balder dead. As Frigga feared, the sky paled and all things wept for the fallen sun god.
For three days, each element attempted to bring Balder back to life, though it wasn’t until Frigga harnessed all of her powers to bring her son back that he was finally restored. It is said that the tears she shed for her son turned into the white berries that grow on the mistletoe plant and that through her joy, she kissed everyone who passed beneath the tree on which it grew. From that day on, Frigga declared mistletoe would no longer be a device of evil but a symbol of love and peace, and that whoever should stand under a mistletoe plant no harm should come to them – only a kiss.
This is merely the Norse mythology legend – mistletoe customs have been used around the world. In Scandinavia, the plant was considered a plant of peace and truce among enemies and fighting spouses. In England, a young woman could not refuse to be kissed under a ball of mistletoe, and often symbolized goodwill, friendship or romance. France adopted the custom on New Year’s Day.
Even today, the holiday season is still incomplete without a sprig of mistletoe hanging above.
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