Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

by Martha
Kissing under the Sacred Mistletoe

Dear Martha, 

It's the holiday season and people keep trying to kiss me 
under a mistletoe. Why? Where did this tradition come 
from anyway? 

Thanks for your help! 


Dear Bob, 

Why anyone would want to kiss you is a mystery to me, but 
for the rest of your question.

While mistletoe sounds more like a foot condition than 
anything that would inspire romance, you should probably 
count your blessings that all you're getting is a kiss. 
Once upon a time, it was more customary to sacrifice a 
bull or ox under the mistletoe. 

Mistletoe is an interesting plant. It's a parasite; in 
fact it's the only plant that is actually considered a 
true parasite because it sometimes kills the hardwood 
trees it infests. Mistletoe grows slowly in trees, and 
doesn't put roots in the ground. 

This liberation from the earth made the ancient Druids 
believe mistletoe was sacred. It was even considered bad 
luck to let any mistletoe touch the ground. The Druids 
believed mistletoe could provide protection; promote 
fertility, love, and health; and exorcise demons. 
Putting it in a baby's crib would keep the fairies from 
whisking away your child. And some people even believed 
that wearing it around your neck could make you 
invisible. (But maybe only in the way that drinking a 
lot of mead could make you really good-looking.) 

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe probably 
got its start with the Druids as well. 

According to one explanation, the Norse god Balder was 
killed with an arrow made of mistletoe.  The rest of the 
gods were sad, so they decided to bring him back to life. 
The Goddess of Love then dedicated the mistletoe to 
Balder--and anyone passing under it must receive a kiss 
to show tribute to this symbol of love. 

Others point to the Druid tradition of laying down arms 
and exchanging greetings under the mistletoe as the 
origin of the kissing tradition. They credit the English 
for taking peace one step further by puckering up, then 
plucking a berry from the bunch and discarding it. The 
kissing ended when the berries ran out, inspiring people 
to find hearty bunches.