Mistletoe (no, not the Justin Bieber song, although it is a classic…) has come to be a best-loved Christmas decoration, wreath feature, and catalyst for festive kisses. But when did the semi-parasitic, poisonous berry become symbolic of Yuletide romance?
BY THE ROAM TEAM 4 MIN READ
is the male reproductive cell, derived from the Greek word meaning 'seed'
Historically, the plant meant many things to many people. It was the ancient Druids that first decided to hang mistletoe, although they were more superstitious than horny - believing in its ability to bring luck and ward off evil. The ancient Greeks lauded its medicinal and healing properties, while the Romans were a bit sweeter with it; they saw mistletoe as the plant of love, peace, and tolerance, and kept a bough above the entrance of the house as protection. But Norse mythology kicked off the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, and its association with festive loving.
Fun fact: many cultures thought that the mistletoe would bring fertility, specifically male fertility. So, somewhere along the way, the plant became inextricably bound up with sperm. Pagan cultures were familiar with a type of mistletoe that bore white rather than red berries, which, in their eyes, resembled semen. Similarly, the Celts knew mistletoe as the semen of Taranis, the god of thunder, and the ancient Greeks literally referred to the plant by the name ‘oak sperm’. So, if you’re at your work Christmas party and Gary from accounts begins approaching you with a sprig of mistletoe and a creepy smile, drop this nugget of information to kill the mood. Or to spice it up, depending on what you’re into…
As far as mistletoe in the UK, we’ve been smooching under it since the 1700s, but the Victorians didn’t want to give it up, and brought the tradition forward to the modern day. It’s not Victorian aristocracy, but the Victorian serving class that got their kicks from making out under a flower. The tradition was that as long as you were poised under the mistletoe, any woman was fair game. And if she declined, she was in for a bout of bad luck. Another tradition ruled that a berry be picked off after each kiss, although one too many berries were consumed and a couple of sickly Victorians met their demise in this way. Do not try at home.
No longer a sperm symbol, a Victorian manipulation tactic, or a parasitic death weapon, we are lucky enough to meet the mistletoe in its most refined era; that of the sweet and slightly tipsy Christmas kiss. We recommend seizing this opportunity to (consensually) show your crush just what they’re missing.
Written by Ayaat Yassin-Kassab