Do you think that if, while the pope is visiting Turkey, a secular country, and war breaks out in the Middle East and the country is invaded by some of its Muslim neighbors who seize and occupy the bulk of it, we'll be left wondering what to do with the leftover Turkey?

Things like that keep me up at night. Well, that and insomnia.

But this is the time of year when we all should be filled with wonder, if you follow the official guidelines for the Christmas season. And there's a lot to wonder about this time of the year given all the holiday traditions we so fervently adhere to and promulgate, often without thinking about why.

Take, for instance, mistletoe. Now we all know there are certain people out there whose parents used to have to hang a pork chop around their necks to get the dog to play with them, but who came up with the idea that the best way to get someone to kiss you is to hang a poisonous, parasitic plant over their head that was named for bird droppings?

Mistletoe comes from the old English word "mistletan," which literally means dung twig because old Englishmen used to believe that mistletoe sprang up whenever birds landed on a limb and did their business.

Well, the culprits in the whole kissing thing seem to be those crazy Vikings, the same people who used to work themselves into such a frenzy before battle they were called Berserkers and who, when not going berserk, would don metal brassieres and sing in German operas.

The consensus seems to be that the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe can be traced back to an old Viking myth involving raising the dead. Frigga, in addition to having a name only a Berserker could love, was the Norse goddess of love and beauty. She had a son named Balder and, presumably another son named Bald, both of whom sound like they could have used a dose of Rogaine.

Frigga loved her son and asked all the elements of nature, including all plants and animals, not to kill him. But the evil Loki discovered a technicality in Frigga's request. Mistletoe is parasitic and therefore has no roots of its own and therefore was not a part of the world of nature bound by Frigga's request.

So Loki made a poisoned arrow using the natural poison found in the plant and killed Balder. Frigga cried over her son's body for three days (sound familiar?) and the mistletoe's berries changed from red to white and her son was resurrected from the dead.

In gratitude, Frigga announced that she would kiss anyone who walked beneath the mistletoe with her, a tradition we still carry on today.

So if you run into one of those annoying friends or relatives who always camp out beneath the mistletoe each Christmas to grab a free smooch, turn to them afterward and ask, "What the Frigga was that all about?"

Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column

for the Daily Journal. He can be reached

at 201 Bishop Hall, University MS 38677

or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu

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