Mistletoe is a strange plant. Certain varieties are poisonous, with their toxic white berries being able to cause a variety of digestive issues. It’s also a parasitic plant, attaching itself onto other trees to steal their water & nutrients. Mistletoe seeds are then dispersed by birds that eat its berries, allowing the plant to grow on branches high above the shade, all while freeloading on other trees’ sunlight. So, why do we kiss under bunches of a cunning, toxic plants each Christmas?
Third-century Christians integrated mistletoe into their celebrations as the religion spread across Europe. But the ritual actually predates Christianity, going all the way back to the Norse god Baldur. The 2nd son of Odin, and the god of truth and light, Baldur was so beloved by the other gods that they wanted to protect him from all the dangers of the world. So, his mother, the goddess Frigg, got fire & water, iron & all other metals, stones & earth, trees, sicknesses & poisons, and from all 4-footed beasts & birds of the air, to swear oaths that they would never harm Baldur in any way. With those oaths, the beautiful god was supposed to be invincible. So, what does that have to do with mistletoe? I’m getting there…
There was a large gathering held later on, where stones, arrows, and flame were all thrown at Baldur to test his might. None of the attacks worked, and Baldur walked away unharmed. Well, the mischievous Loki, who was jealous of Baldur’s powers, set out to find the one thing that might hurt him. And Loki eventually found that goddess Frigg forgot to ask the lowly & forgotten-about mistletoe to not to harm her dear son. Ultimately, Loki used a mistletoe dart to murder Baldur, right there in front of all the other gods who loved him so dearly. Nice guy, Loki!
Frigg was, of course, devastated, as any mother would be. And her tears are said to have become the berries of the mistletoe plant. It was then decreed by the Norse gods that mistletoe would never again be used as a weapon, and that the goddess, Frigg, would place a kiss on anyone who passed under it.
So, even all these many years later, that’s why we hang mistletoe underneath our doorways around the holidays: so that we never overlook its power ever again.
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