My family decorated our home for Christmas the other night, and my eldest daughter was puzzled when I handed her our Mistletoe holder.
“What is this?” she asked.
“That is mistletoe,” I responded. “And it’s a Christmas tradition to kiss people beneath it.”
“Why?” she asked.
And this is what I told her:
The vikings used to tell stories about their gods and heroes. The most popular god of all time was Baldur.
When Baldur began having troubling dreams about his mortality, his mother went to every living creature and asked them to never hurt her son. All of creation loved Baldur and agreed at once. But Baldur’s mom forgot to ask the mistletoe.
Being (nearly) invincible, it became a fun sport to lob axes, knives, and arrows at Baldur. He would laugh off each blow as none of it hurt him in the least.
In time, Baldur’s only real enemy, Loki, discovered his weakness. And so he crafted an arrow made of mistletoe and tricked Baldur’s blind brother Hodur into shooting at Baldur. The arrow killed the hero and mistletoe became a reminder to show love while we are alive, because no one lives forever.
There’s a lot more to the story about how the gods petitioned the keeper of Helheim (the world of the dead) to return Baldur to life and how Loki thwarted that plan too, but the part about the mistletoe ends there.
So what does this have to do with Christmas and kissing? I like to think that the mistletoe tradition was rolled into Christmas celebrations because of the similarity of their intent. Christmas, like the message of the Baldur’s mistletoe story, is a time to celebrate life. Christians are specifically celebrating the gift of Christ whose death brought life everlasting, but as this gift can only be accepted by the living, the same sense of urgency and awareness of mortality exists within both narratives.
I hope this new knowledge helps you appreciate the mistletoe a little more this year. Now get out there and greet each other with holy kisses!