How Mistletoe Works

Kissing Under the Berries

Mistletoe is a symbol of love and fertility.
Mistletoe is a symbol of love and fertility.
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Mistletoe is also said to be a sexual symbol, because of the consistency and color of the berry juice as well as the belief that it is an aphrodisiac, the “soul” of the oak from which it grows. The origin of the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is vague. However, the tradition may have stemmed from either the Viking association of the plant with Frigga (the goddess of love) or from the ancient belief that mistletoe was related to fertility. Another explanation for the tradition is that it is derived from the festival of Saturnalia, a popular mid-December celebration in ancient Rome [source:].

The correct mistletoe etiquette is for the man to remove one berry when he kisses a woman. When all the berries are gone, there's no more kissing permitted underneath that plant.

One legend states that a couple who kisses underneath mistletoe will have good luck, but a couple neglecting to perform the ritual will have bad luck. Specifically, it is believed that a couple kissing under the mistletoe ensure themselves of marriage and a long, happy life, while an unmarried woman not kissed under the mistletoe will remain single for another year.

Maidens may place a sprig of the plant under their pillow at night in the same manner a child places his or her lost tooth in anticipation of a visit from the Tooth Fairy. Instead of exchanging teeth for money, however, the sprig of Mistletoe allows women to dream of their Prince Charming. Burning a mistletoe plant is also thought to foretell a woman’s marital bliss, or lack thereof. A mistletoe that burns steadily prophesies a healthy marriage, while fickle flames may doom a woman to an ill-suited partner.

While mistletoe is widely viewed as a symbol of love and fertility, it's also representative of peace. Ancient tales tell of enemies who encounter each other underneath trees bearing mistletoe. The enemies lay down their arms, embrace, and agree to a truce until the next day [source: Perry]. This act of goodwill is yet another possibility for why we kiss under mistletoe: abstaining from violence and exchanging greetings under the plant may have prompted the custom of kissing.

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More Great Links


  • “Hiker’s Notebook: Mistletoe.” Sierra Club’s Metropolitan Washington Regional Outings Program
  • "New light on old Christmas traditions." BBC News. December 20, 1999.
  • Perry, Leonard. “A Kiss Under the Mistletoe.” University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science.
  • Reshetiloff, Kathy. “Parasitic plant’s popularity rooted in myths, legends.” The Bay Journal. December 1994, Vol. 4, Issue 9.
  • Saupe, Stephen G. “Parasites are Welcome for Christmas.” Sagatagan Seasons, Winter 2002.