Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?

Among the various theories about the origins of this tradition are that it is a hangover from the Roman Saturnalia celebrations (a major influence on our concept of Christmas) or a relic of the wintertide fertility rituals practised by the druids...

Why do we kiss under the mistletoe? © iStock

Perhaps the most charming idea is that it derives from a Norse myth of Frigg, goddess of love, and her ill-fated son Balder. He was so beloved that all things on Earth – including animals, elements and plants – took an oath never to harm him.

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Envious of Balder’s invincibility, the mischievous god Loki sought the one thing that had been overlooked – the tiny mistletoe – and made a dart of the plant, contriving to have it thrown at Balder to deadly effect. Devastated, Frigg declared mistletoe a symbol of peace and love, promising to kiss any who walked under it in remembrance of her son.

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Whatever the true beginnings of the tradition, kissing under the mistletoe was an established Christmas custom by the early 19th century. In his short sketch Christmas Eve (1820), Washington Irving described “the mistletoe, with its white berries, hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids”.

Answered by one of our Q&A experts, Emily Brand. For more fascinating Q&A’s, pick up a copy of History Revealed.