The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is as ancient as it is fun. No one seems to know the true origin of kissing under the mistletoe, but most sources seem to trace it back to old Scandinavia. It probably stems from pagan rituals, as do most Christmas traditions, even Christmas itself.
Druids believed mistletoe possessed magical powers of healing—even against poison—and helped improve fertility. Other herbology claims mistletoe is both an aphrodisiac and an abortive plant, which might be why some of the earliest customs involved more than an innocent kiss.
In the Celitc language, mistletoe means literally, “all-healer.” Modern medicine cannot prove this, so it probably comes from superstition based on the phenomenon that even in the dead of winter, mistletoe stays green and healthy because it is feeding off the trees serving as its host. Druids performed a sacred sacrificial ritual underneath the mistletoe for the benefit of sick or infertile land and animals.
But getting back to the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. Its earliest uses are linked to its symbolism of peace. Supposedly warring parties would lay down their weapons and declare a truce while in the presence of mistletoe. Quarreling couples would kiss and make up underneath a sprig of mistletoe. This probably led later to the tradition to simply kissing anyone “caught” standing underneath the mistletoe, which later led to interesting–and not always innocent–situations. Until recently, the young man would traditionally pluck off one of the white berries after kissing a girl. When all the berries were plucked, the kissing, at least while under the mistletoe, also ceased. Reportedly, maids in a boarding house would wait under the mistletoe, get kissed, and then the men were expected to pay a shilling.
At one point, the “kissing bunch” became a Christmas decoration in England early American homes. The kissing bunch was constructed of two hoops tied into a round frame, then decorated with ribbons, holly, apples, oranges and other bright fruits. In the center of the frame rested figures of the infant Christ, Mary, and Joseph. A sprig of mistletoe hung below this.
In my Regency Christmas novella, A Winter’s Knight, which is included in A Timeless Romance Anthology, Winter Collection, a mistletoe kiss leads to heart-rending choice. A Winter’s Knight begins when Clarissa Fairchild’s coach breaks down in front of forbidding Wyckburg Castle, a place where generations of earls have murdered their young brides. An adventurer at heart, Clarissa is as horrified as she is fascinated. When she meets widower Christopher de Champs, Earl of Wyckburg, she’s torn between fleeing for her life or uncovering the handsome earl’s terrible secret which may land her in the middle of a deadly curse.
In my Christmas Regency novella, Mistletoe Magic, there are lots of plots that center around a magical mistletoe kiss, but the end result is not what anyone expected!
So the next time you need a good kissing, stand under a bunch of mistletoe in the vicinity of a person you’d like to kiss, (bring your own mistletoe if necessary) and expect a kiss. Throat-clearing may help. But remember, no berry plucking or shilling paying necessary!