Under the Mistletoe

One man writes:

It was slightly after Thanksgiving and the visit had gone well.  I was now ready to go back home. The airport had turned a tacky red and green with loudspeakers blaring annoying elevator renditions of carols. As someone who takes Christmas  seriously and, being  tired, I was not in a particularly good mood. Going to check in my luggage, I noticed mistletoe hanging. Not real mistletoe, but cheap plastic with red paint on the rounder parts and green paint on the flatter and pointier parts (which could only be taken for mistletoe in a very Picasso sort of way.) With a considerable degree of irritation and nowhere else to vent it, I said to the attendant, “Even if I were not married, I would not want to kiss you under such a ghastly mockery of mistletoe.” “Sir, look more closely at where the mistletoe is.”  “Ok, I see that it’s above the luggage scale, which is the place you’d have to step forward for a kiss.” “That’s not why it’s there.”  “Ok, I give up. Why is it there?” “It’s there so you can kiss your luggage goodbye!”     A stolen kiss on a cold moonlight evening – it does seem strange that each Christmas season, mistletoe, a parasite plant, has the unique, mischievous, and delightful role of holiday matchmaker.  Well, let me explain first about the plant, and second about the puckering.

Plant – Mistletoe gets its name from the Old English word, misteltan (mistle meaning dung and  tan meaning twig) thus “dung on a twig.”  This is due to the fact that the plant springs to life from bird droppings on tree branches, especially hardwood ones like apple and oak.  Here’s how it works.  Mistletoe is a green plant with red berries.  Birds love those berries and after digesting them, deposit their excrement on their favorite hang-out spot, tree branches.  The poo then attaches itself to the tree bark and gradually works its way inside to tap the tree’s nutrients.  Then, six weeks later, a mistletoe plant begins to appear on the tree limb.  Once full grown, the parasite ceases to be a parasite, feeding itself through the process of photosynthesis via its green leaves.  And, unlike other parasites, mistletoe is a beautiful plant that especially flourishes in the winter when all other living things are fighting for survival.  Its growth seemingly cannot be controlled or eradicated. And although the berries can be lethal to humans in their raw state, when processed by herbalists, the plant is medicinal.

But what does this have to do with kissing?

Pucker – The Nordic legend goes something like this.  Queen Frigga (goddess of love) marries King Odin (god of the north).  They then have a son, Prince Balder (god of sun and summer).  One evening the boy has a dream in which he foresees his death.  The next day the son tells his mother about it and she becomes greatly alarmed – for if her offspring were to die, not only …

… would she lose a beloved child but all life on earth would perish in darkness.  So Frigga immediately goes into action to avert such a catastrophe.  She has all nature (earth, plant, animal) promise her not to harm Balder.  Unfortunately, unbeknown to Frigga, Loki (god of evil) knows of a plant that the mother had overlooked in her frenzy to keep her son alive, mistletoe. So Loki makes a bow and arrow, putting a mistletoe berry on the tip of the arrow and strikes Balder dead.  And just as Frigga feared, the world darkens and all nature begins to perish.  But as mother kisses son goodbye, her tears magically change the mistletoe berry from poison to medicine and Balder comes back to life.  Then in remembrance of the event, from that moment, King Odin and Queen Frigga order that whenever two people stand under a mistletoe, they should embrace and kiss.  And so the Scandinavians, when they immigrated,  brought the tradition with them to other lands and it eventually evolved into what it is today, a kiss between a male and a female (with a berry to be removed after each kiss until the mistletoe is barren of berries and so loses its power.)

Now I said all that to say this:

When it comes to the traditions of the season, there is little on the secular side that is not steeped in paganism, including – Christmas day, Christmas trees, Christmas ornaments, Christmas lights, Christmas gifts, Christmas colours, Christmas logs, Christmas holly, Christmas poinsettias, and Christmas mistletoe.  But the Bible (Rom. 14, I Cor. 8) is also clear on matters like this – if you’re offended by such pagan associations, then you are right scripturally not to take part in any; but if you are not offended by such pagan associations, then you are free scripturally to take part.  The only unscriptural aspect of the Bible-and-Christmas question is when one person makes it a spiritual issue with another individual.  Then, both indeed, need to get under the mistletoe.