Today the kiss under the mistletoe is a cherished Christmas tradition, however the custom dates back much further than the Christian holiday. For thousands of years the herb has been a symbol of vitality and fertility, on one side because it can blossom even during the winter season but also because of the white berries’ resemblance to semen. Both Greeks and Celtic Druids relied heavily on its healing properties, using it to cure all sorts of ailments, although today we know that the plant is actually toxic, causing severe cramps and vomiting and in rare cases can even prove fatal. Even though the Celts didn’t use to kiss under it, they believed it held sacred powers and would collect it during the solstices to decorate their houses.
In Roman times truces and treaties would be often be signed under a mistletoe, as it was a symbol for peace and understanding. Citizens would also often hang it in their homes and temples as part of Saturnalia – a festival in honor of the God Saturn, celebrated during mid-December.
In Norse mythology mistletoe played a major role in the story of Odin’s son Baldur. Due to an ancient prophecy and the efforts of his mother, the Goddess of love Frigg, to protect him, he was nearly invincible. However, his one vulnerability was the mistletoe, so Loki made an arrow out of it, with which he poisoned him. According to some versions of the legend, his mother was eventually able to resurrect him underneath a mistletoe tree. In her happiness she declared it a symbol of love and that anyone who passed under it deserved a kiss.
During the Middle Ages all of these myths and traditions got incorporated into the Christianity and towards the 18th century were all part of the holiday celebrations. Before every kiss under the mistletoe couples were supposed to pluck one of the white berries off of the plant and if there were no more fruits left, then there would be no more kisses.