MANY peope dread finding themselves accidentally under the mistletoe with a stranger and hearing the words, "Oh go on, kiss. It's tradition!"
Mistletoe is a Christmas staple, but why do people kiss underneath it? Here is the history behind the festive custom…
Why do people kiss under the mistletoe at Christmas?
Mistletoe's mystical properties stem back to the Celts and Norse people who believed there was something mystical about the plant as the sprigs stayed green in winter even when the tree has lost its leaves.
It was also believed to bring luck in Medieval times.
One Norse tale explains its links to romance, love and kissing.
Balder, son of the goddess Frigga, was killed by an evil spirit with an arrow made of mistletoe.
Frigga was so distraught that her tears turned to white berries, coating the plant and symbolising her love for him.
Frigga was overjoyed by the white berries so she blessed the plant and promised a kiss to all who passed beneath it from that day onward.
This turned into a tradition in ancient times when visitors would kiss the hand of a host under the mistletoe when they arrived as a way of honouring the Norse legend.
Since then, the tradition has evolved to the custom we all know and in England, kissing under the mistletoe was first referred to in the late 18th century England.
What is mistletoe?
Despite all the romantic connotations, mistletoe is actually a tree-killing parasite plant.
The plant can only thrive if its seeds are carried to a host tree by birds that have eaten the mistletoe berries.
The plant feeds off the host tree by stealing all the water and soil minerals which is why the mistletoe retains its vibrant green colour all through winter.
What colour are mistletoe berries?
Most species of mistletoe have waxy white berries.
There are approximately 1300 species of the plant, and some of them have red, pink or transparent berries.
Mistletoe berries are poisonous and should definitely not be ingested.
One French tradition holds that the reason mistletoe is poisonous is because it was growing on a tree that was used to make the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.
Can I eat mistletoe berries?
You should definitely avoid eating mistletoe berries as the plant contains Phoratoxin and Viscotoxin, which are both poisonous when ingested.
While it is unlikely to cause death, symptoms range from mild to severe.
People who have eaten the berries may have stomach pain, vomiting, blurred vision and diarrhoea, among other symptons, and you should seek medical advice as soon as possible after consumption.
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