To set the scene: You’re ladling yourself a second plastic cup of spiked eggnog, when a beautiful woman taps you on the shoulder. You turn around, and she points up toward the ceiling. You both appear to be standing under the mistletoe. You kiss her. (Let’s hope she’s your significant other.)
This could happen at any run-of-the-mill holiday party, Secret Santa gift-exchange, or in your boss’ house. So when and if you find yourself unwittingly under the mistletoe, you should probably know why you were compelled to do what you did, so you have an airtight excuse later on.
The best-known origin story of why we kiss under the mistletoe actually has very little to do with that scenario we just mapped out above. According to Sir James George Frazer in his book The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion, the mistletoe story stretches all the way back to a Norse myth, involving the god Balder.
As the story goes, Balder dreamed of his impending death, so his god friends made him invincible. “[Whatever] they did, nothing could hurt him; and at this [the gods] were all glad.”
But another god—an evil one named Loki (likely where Marvel got the name for Thor’s archenemy)—tricked a blind god into throwing a mistletoe twig at Balder, and “it pierced him through and through, and he fell down dead.” (Just so you understand what just happened here: This mistletoe was used more like a missile, and it murdered this guy.)
After Balder the-apparently-less-than-invincible’s death, a goddess named Frigg persuaded the other gods to bring him back to life. How did she repay them? With kisses. The gods also took the mistletoe aside—you know, because twigs could apparently talk in those days—and made it promise to never do a bad deed again and only be part of useful and happy acts.
Frazer deduced that this story could be where all that kissing came from. What do you think? Read the full excerpt of the myth here.