Under The Mistletoe: "A Christmas Story"

Mistletoe is one of those words that's inextricably linked to Christmas. And to kissing, of course. But few people know WHY we kiss under the mistletoe. It's a lovely tradition that's based on a story which comes down to us from Nordic mythology; a tale from the cold land of the midnight sun, that was home to wolves, wild men, and Frost Giants; a memorable story that ends, as all stories should, in love and eternal remembrance. And it goes like this:

The most beloved God in Scandinavia was Baldur, the oldest son of King Odin. Baldur was the Peace God, and every creature that walked, swam, or flew, loved the golden-haired, charismatic Baldur. That is, with one exception. Loki, a companion of the Gods, hated Baldur. Loki was mean-spirited and jealous; an angry, vengeful creature who loved war and slaughter, and he plotted Baldur's death. However, Baldur's mother, Queen to King Odin, dreamed that someone was trying to kill her oldest son, so she concocted a plan to save Baldur's life.

The Queen summoned every creature that lived on earth, sea, or sky, and demanded a promise from them that they would not hurt Baldur. Then she sent a message to every metal in the ground and every plant that grew out of the earth, and exacted the same solemn promise: that none of them would permit themselves to be used as a weapon against Baldur. The Queen even peruaded the virulent poisons and pestilential diseases to leave her oldest son alone.

The plan seemed to work. In fact, it worked so well that the Gods developed a new game which they played in the Sweet Groves of Ida. Baldur stood in the middle of a circle, and the other Gods tried to attack him with axes and arrows. The Queen, standing on her castle wall, looked down in satisfaction as their weapons were magically deflected at the last moment. Even Thor's mighty hammer could not hurt Baldur! The Queen smiled to herself. Her beloved son was safe.

Alas, it was not to be! For the Queen had forgotten about one plant that did NOT grow out of the earth; a woody vine called mistletoe that lived, parasitically, in the tops of oak trees. Loki cut a branch of mistletoe, and used his magic to make a dart that was hard and razor-sharp. Then Loki sought out Baldur's younger brother, Hodur, who was blind. Loki led Hodur to the Sweet Groves of Ida, where the circle of Gods were playing their new game with Baldur.

"Take this dart," said Loki, "and join in the game. You know Baldur can't be hurt." Loki faced Hodur in the right direction, and the blind youth playfully hurled the dart at his brother. The dart pierced Baldur to the heart. The Peace God gasped once, then fell dead.
The Gods were stunned! Their best and brightest had been assassinated. Loki was caught and chained under a mountain for eternity. Hodur, innocent and torn by grief, eventually took his own life.

But the Gods wanted men to remember the horror of this crime, so that it could never be repeated. They ordained that mistletoe, henceforward, would be given into the keeping of the God of Love. Never again could it be used for an evil purpose. And as a reminder to men, the Gods further ordained that anyone walking UNDER mistletoe must receive a KISS to show that it was truly a symbol of love. Every year after that, the families of Scandinavia placed a sprig of mistletoe above their doors to commemorate the death of their beloved Baldur.

And that's why we kiss under the mistletoe. Not a bad custom in a country like the United States, that has seen so many of its own "best and brightest" cruelly slain.

So when you walk under your mistletoe this holiday season, remember the story of Baldur. And as you kiss your loved ones, make a quiet Christmas wish that you and yours, like the mistletoe, will be protected by the God of Love during the coming year.