Circa 1890: A sailor tries to kiss a young woman under a sprig of mistletoe. (William Small. Hulton Archive/Getty Images By KAT MOON December 13, 2018)
From Harry Potter’s first kiss to Justin Bieber’s holiday tune, kissing under the mistletoe is everywhere in pop culture. But this Christmas tradition — that if you’re standing under the leafy plant, it’s time for a smooch — existed long before it ever appeared in movies and pop songs.
While historians are uncertain about why kissing under the mistletoe started, there is a general consensus regarding when and where the custom began, and how it became popular during Christmas time.
The origins of kissing under the mistletoe, a plant that often bears white berries, are often traced to a tale in Norse mythology about the god Baldur. In the story, Baldur’s mother, Frigg, casts a powerful magic to make sure that no plant grown on earth could be used as a weapon against her son. The one plant the spell does not reach is the mistletoe, as it does not grow out of the earth, but out of a tree’s branches. The scheming Loki, upon learning this, makes a spear out of mistletoe — the spear that would eventually kill Baldur.
Baldur was warlike and a favored son of Gods, and so when people saw mistletoe they would kiss in joy that he was dead! Thus the tradition is a celebration of the end of a warlike man who enjoyed and died by violence.