The tradition of smooching under the mistletoe descends from the customs of several different cultures. For instance, exchanging kisses under the mistletoe was a tradition of Greek festivals and marital ceremonies. If a couple in love exchanges a kiss under the mistletoe, it is interpreted as a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life.
The Anglo-Saxons associated the powers of the mistletoe to the legend of Freya, the goddess of love, beauty and fertility. According to the legend, a man had to kiss any young girl who, without realizing it, found herself accidentally under a sprig of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling. Guys would pluck a berry when they smooched the girls and when the last berry was gone, there would be no more kissing!
In France, the custom linked to the mistletoe was reserved for New Year's Day: "Au gui l'An neuf"--Mistletoe for the New Year.
Although the mistletoe is considered to be the seed of love, the common name of the plant is derived from the ancient belief that mistletoe grew from bird droppings. This strange belief was related to the ancient principle that life could spring spontaneously from dung.
In ancient times, people observed that mistletoe appeared on a branch or twig where birds had left droppings. "Mistel" is the Anglo-Saxon word for "dung," and "tan" is the word for "twig". So, mistletoe actually means "dung-on-a-twig". What a strange meaning for a plant that is supposed to bring love and happiness!
In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up. Whenever enemies met under the mistletoe in the forest, they had to lay down their arms and observe a truce until the next day.
Today's custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is a survival of European beliefs and traditions. In Europe, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits. In some countries, they were placed over house and stable doors to prevent the entrance of witches.
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