Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that was believed in ancient times to have magical powers because it, like holly, flowered or produced berries in the middle of winter. Christmas mistletoe can be found growing on trees from New Jersey to Florida. It is usually found on apple trees and sometimes on oak trees.
Ancient Celtic people believed that mistletoe possessed power to heal deseases, make poisons harmless, protect from witches and evil spirits, make people and animals fertile, and bring good luck and blessings. Legend also says that if enemies met underneath mistletoe they would lay down their arms, exchange friendly greetings, and keep a truce until the next day. From this came the custom of hanging mistletoe over doorways or in a room as a token of goodwill and peace to all who enter.
This Viking myth tells how they believed mistletoe got its magical powers. Balder, the god of the summer sun, had a dream in which he died. This greatly alarmed his mother, Frigga, the goddess of love and beauty. So she went to the air, fire, water, and earth as well as all of the animals and plants on the earth and in the air and asked them not to harm her son. However, she missed one plant. Loki, the god of evil, noticed that she missed mistletoe. He made a poisoned arrow using the mistletoe and had Balder killed with it. Each of the elements mourned and tried to bring him back to life, but none were successful except for Frigga, his mother. It it said that the tears she shed during that time turned into the white berries on the plant. Joyful over Balder's resurrection, she declared that whenever anyone passed under mistletoe they should receive a kiss and no harm should come to them.
Other myths are associated with mistletoe in the following ways. In England, farmers would give the Christmas bunch of mistletoe to the first cow that calved to bring good luck to the entire herd. In some parts of England, if the Christmas mistletoe is not burned on Twelfth Night then none of the boys and girls who had kissed under it would ever marry. At Christmas time young ladies who are standing under mistletoe cannot refuse to be kissed. Such kissing could bring lasting friendship and goodwill, or a deep romance. Also whenever a man kissed a woman under the mistletoe he should remove a berry. When all the berries are removed the kissing should stop.
In 1828, Joel Roberts Poinsettia, the first U. S. minister to Mexico discovered the plant that now bears his name. Today the city of Encitas, California, is called the poinsettia capital of the world because of the large number of poinsettias found there. In Mexico, this plant is called "the Flower of the Holy Night."