Kissing under the Mistletoe is a lovely holiday tradition. But the origin is not what you think.

In nordic Northern Norway, very few plants grow. Just Christmas trees, icicles and very small amounts of mistletoe. Mistletoe has always been a big deal up there.

In 1456, there was a Christmas party near Hammerfest, Finnmark for the tiny-but-successful Hammerfest Jingle Bell Co. The king of the Hammerfest Jingle Bell Co. was the historically-renowned cheapskate Olaf Furansen (Olaf the Cheapskate).

Though the office had done a whiz-bang business in the sale of jingle bells, Olaf decided against purchasing the full raft of Christmas bonus mistletoe. He purchased just half.

He hid the rest of his profit in a nearby glacier. The money he later gambled away on reindeer races. But the point is, that year, he didn’t have enough mistletoe for everyone. Naturally, when he announced this after the hot wine toasts, and before the stomp-dancing, the staff were outraged.

To quell the outcry of disappointment from his staff, (which he probably could have anticipated) Olaf quickly devised a plan. He would make it into a competition – yes, that would be fun! Everyone begrudgingly agreed.

He split his employees into two teams. Then, he made them smash their faces together under the sprig of mistletoe clutched in his outstretched hand. He then awarded the mistletoe to whoever was left standing. And so on. Until all the employees had smashed their faces together.

Despite the bloody noses and chipped teeth (or perhaps because of them) everyone had so much fun they forgot about the mistletoe shortage.

From that Christmas on, the tradition of smashing faces under the mistletoe spread rapidly. It traveled south, through Scandinavia, before hitting Germany and spreading east and west. From there, it traveled far and wide.

Of course, over the years and through the many miles, the exuberant face-smashing-to-win-mistletoe tradition has been watered down to a kiss – somewhere between a gentle peck and a deep smooch.

And nobody gets the mistletoe.

Other Christmas History Posts:

Wrapping Paper
Lumps of Coal