Mistletoe: An Uncertain History

As the Christmas decorations go up and carols are sung, there is another holiday tradition that will make its way to many homes and parties this year: Mistletoe.

Most famously, this is the plant that two people kiss while underneath at Christmastime. It is a symbol of romance and a longstanding holiday tradition. But what couples under the leaves may not be aware of is that it is also known as a parasite that harms trees by sucking the nutrients from them.

Where the kissing tradition started is unknown, and it is not clear why it unfolded. Some of the theories believe that the plant itself began hanging by mantels and ceilings for good luck. Some believe that the kissing was started for peacemaking. Others recall that centuries ago in the Middle Ages, Europeans thought it meant fertility and vitality. That could be as a result of the fact that the trees it kills are drained of their nutrients to feed the plant’s own life and fertility.

But what is the most strange is that some think that it was the parasitic nature of the plant itself that made it kissing plant. Perhaps it is the almost miraculous ability for the plant to stay green all through the winter months or the white pearls of berries that create the orbs that survive hear weather. A mistletoe expert, Jonathan Briggs says that is “the fundamental basis of all mid-winter traditions relating to mistletoe,”.

What is certain is that it is not going anywhere any time soon. But be sure that whoever you choose to be your partner under the leaves has consented to the kiss you plant on them under the mistletoe.