03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Mistletoe: Why All The Kissing Under A Parasitic Plant?

So Mommy was kissing Santa underneath the mistletoe last night.

Surely, you've wondered why. What does a parasitic plant have to do with the birth of the baby Jesus?

Like other evergreens, mistletoe --a parasitic plant that attaches to other trees-- remained green in winter, even as the trees in which it hung were "dead." A symbol of life in the dead of winter, it was part of the winter Solstice celebrations of many ancient cultures. The Greeks and Romans both prized it for its evergreen qualities.

But hanging mistletoe at Christmas actually comes from two old traditions, one Anglo, the other Saxon. The Celts of Britain and Ireland considered mistletoe a sacred plant and called it "all-heal." It was thought to possess the miraculous power to cure disease, promote fertility in women, make poison harmless, protect against witchcraft and generally bring blessings.

In fact, mistletoe was considered so sacred that even enemies who happened to meet beneath it in the forest would lay down their arms, exchange a friendly greeting and keep a truce until the following day. From this old custom grew the practice of suspending Mistletoe over a doorway or in a room as a token of peace --hence a greeting of peace under the mistletoe. But when Britain converted to Christianity, the bishops did not allow the mistletoe to be used in churches, because it was considered the central symbol of a pagan religion.

The other crucial tale comes from the Norse countries. One of the gods, Baldr, the god of light and peace, was once killed by a dart made from a sprig of mistletoe. Cursing other plants to die in winter, his mother, Frigga, queen of the gods, decreed that mistletoe would be a symbol of love and peace from then on. Baldr was resurrected each year at Jul , (or Yule) the 12-day Norse Solstice festival when light returned to the world. The kissing tradition remained strong in the Scandinavian countries and eventually made its way to England and America.

In other words, the mistletoe is another vestige of beliefs that existed long before Christianity. So kiss away and thank Frigga.

Read more about Norse myths and other Christmas myths in Don't Know Much About Mythology and Don't Know Much About the Bible.mythology_cover_tiltedbible_150