Christmas and the Mistletoe Tradition
The myth behind kissing under the mistletoe
Have you ever wondered where some of our modern traditions came from? As the Christmas season approaches, I have been doing some research regarding certain holiday-related topics. My findings may surprise even the biggest scrooge!
Mistletoe has been revered by certain cultures for many, many years. The ancient Celts of Britain felt that Mistletoe held sacred powers of healing, and that it contained the soul of the tree from which it was cut. In the Celtic language, Mistletoe means “All Heal”.
The Druids also had an interesting ceremony that included Mistletoe. The pagan priests of the time would carefully cut boughs of Mistletoe from the sacred Oak tree with a golden sickle. They were ever careful not to let the boughs touch the ground, for fear of contaminating them. The priests then divided these boughs into sprigs, and gave them to the people to protect them from storms and other forms of evil.
Mistletoe has also been included in many famous myths from earlier times. The Norse myth that comes to mind is that of the resurrection of Balder, the god of the summer sun. The myth states that Balder had a dream in which he dies. His mother Frigga, the goddess of beauty and love, was rather alarmed by this. Frigga went to all of the elements (air, fire, water, and earth) and asked that they spare her son. When she was satisfied that she had secured their cooperation in this matter, she informed Balder that he would live forever.
Balder had one enemy, though. Loki, the god of evil, discovered one plant that Frigga had overlooked. That plant was Mistletoe. Loki fashioned an arrow made from the branch of the Mistletoe, and dipped it in poison. He then tricked Balder’s blind brother, Hoder, into firing it and killing Balder. Each of the elements tried to bring Balder back to life, but none were successful save for his mother, Frigga. It is said that her tears turned into the berries from the Mistletoe, and when they rained upon Balder they brought him back to life.
In her joy at Balder’s resurrection, she reversed the poisonous reputation of the Mistletoe and kissed everyone who walked beneath the tree on which it grew. She also issued a decree that anyone passing under the Mistletoe must kiss, and therefore no harm would come to them.
I love that story, and I think of it each year as I hang the Mistletoe in my home. The tradition of kissing under the Mistletoe seems to have faded somewhat in modern times. So I’m going to hang it in every doorway I pass under during this Christmas season!
David M Peterson
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