Farmers Almanac
The Farmers Almanac
Order your copy today!

Why Do We Kiss Under The Mistletoe?

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Pinterest Share on LinkedIn Subscribe by Email Print This Post
Why Do We Kiss Under The Mistletoe?

Oh, ho, the mistletoe,
Hung where you can see.
Somebody waits for you;
Kiss her once for me!

From bringing trees inside to banging pots and pans at the turn of the New Year, this time of year is full of colorful, storied, and sometimes strange, traditions. Kissing under the mistletoe is one of these.

What Is Mistletoe?

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on, and attaches to, the branches of a tree or shrub. As it grows, it burrows into its host, and draws nutrients from the tree. To a healthy tree, mistletoe’s thievery is generally harmless. In fact, some describe the relationship between mistletoe plants and their host trees as somewhat symbiotic, because birds, attracted to a tree by mistletoe’s evergreen leaves, often spread the host tree’s seeds in winter, increasing the overall tree population.

Mistletoe features small, smooth, oval leaves paired up along a woody stem, with waxy white berries in clusters of up to six or ten, depending on the species. An important food source for many bird species, mistletoe can be mildly toxic to humans, causing diarrhea and gastrointestinal discomfort. It’s best to wash your hands after handling the berries.

Why Do We Kiss Beneath The Mistletoe?

Why we kiss under the plant probably originates in Norse mythology.

The Norse Legend
According to legend, Baldur, the god of light, began to have terrible nightmares that he would soon be killed. To ease his mind, Baldur’s mother, Frigga, undertook a journey to make everything in heaven or Earth — plants, animals, weapons, and so on — swear an oath not to harm Baldur. Because her son was so universally loved, everything she asked gladly made this promise. Unfortunately, the goddess overlooked the humble mistletoe.

Realizing Frigga’s mistake, Loki, the god of mischief and fire, fashioned a spear of mistletoe and tricked Baldur’s blind twin brother, Hodur, into throwing it at the light god. The mistletoe pierced Baldur’s heart, killing him and bringing darkness to the world. Being magical, the gods were eventually able to resurrect Baldur. To celebrate his return, Frigga declared that mistletoe would be a symbol of love, and commanded gods and humans to kiss beneath its leaves in memory of her son.

Some versions of the myth, though, say Loki foiled the gods’ attempt to restore Baldur to life. In this case, it is prophesied that the light god will return at Ragnarok, the destruction and rebirth of the world, and the mistletoe kiss is a foretaste of the joy that is yet to come.

Superstitions and Lore

Like many plants associated with rebirth myths, mistletoe began to be associated with fertility. People once placed it above babies’ cradles to protect them from evil or mischievous spirits, and young girls placed it under their pillows to dream of their future husbands.

Mistletoe Etiquette

According to old versions of the kissing lore, the proper etiquette for kissing under mistletoe requires a man to remove one berry when he kisses a woman. Once all of the berries are gone, it becomes bad luck to kiss beneath that particular sprig.

Grow Your Own!

To cultivate mistletoe, simply squeeze the thick, sticky pulp out of several mistletoe berries and rub the seeds, spaced about an inch apart, on a young, thin tree branch. Unless they are eaten by birds, the seeds should grow on their own, without your help, taking nutrients from the host tree.


1 Karen Hambick { 12.20.17 at 10:43 am }

I have never seen mistletoe kill a tree ever.

2 Carlos { 12.09.16 at 8:53 am }

I’ve used a shotgun to remove it from trees at Christmas time. I’ve only seen it grow on the black gum tree.

3 Paul { 12.12.15 at 4:48 pm }

Mistetoe species are adapted to on a particular species or genus of tree, so trying to grow mistetoe on a tree will require getting the right spp of mistetoe, and many tree and shrub spp are not hosts for mistetoe. Mistetoe is rarely fatal for a tree but does make a tree much better for many wildlife species due to the large branches that often form, making great perches and nesting platforms.

4 jackie bailey { 12.04.15 at 10:42 am }

went yestarday an shot some out do it every year

5 Micheal Sherrod { 12.09.14 at 10:08 am }

Mistletoe actually causes a growth on meskite trees. It’s growth causes the wood to make burly wood used in knife handles,gun grips, and exotic woodworking.

6 Volunteers Under the Mistletoe | Being Where You Are { 12.09.14 at 4:46 am }

[…] for fun, a couple of resources I found about the lore and legend of mistletoe, form The Farmer’s Almanac, Smithsonian Magazine and The History […]

7 S. Hollon { 12.08.14 at 9:19 am }

A Christmas Eve tradition in my neck of the woods was to shoot it out of the top of oaks…proving your skills with a .22 rifle and carrying it home for Christmas Eve kiss from your girl.
Roupes Valley Alabama

8 Marty Swartz { 12.08.14 at 8:54 am }

Please do not tell people to “plant” mistletoe on their trees, It can kill them. It is a parasite and drains the tree of it’s energy. Once it is established, the seeds will fall on other branches and then the tree is full of it and it is ugly and like I said it will destroy the tree. SO Please do not plant it on any tree, cut it out and get rid of it, There is enough out there in the wild.

9 KATHYB69 { 12.21.10 at 1:05 am }

It is sad that this family tradition is fading amongst the younger generation…Some children/teenagers to young adults, when asked what is a mistletoe, they simply do not know…

Leave a Comment

Note: Comments that further the discussion of the above content are likely to be approved. Those comments that are vague or are simply submitted in order to promote a product, service or web site, although not necessarily considered "spam," are generally not approved.

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1919, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.

Spring Is Here – Sign Up Today!

The Farmers' Almanac is a gardener's best friend. Get 365 days of access to our online weather and gardening calendars + a copy of the 2017 Almanac
for only $13.99 $11.99!

Subscribe Today »