Opinion: Mistletoe still calls for a kiss 


A small display of mistletoe greeted me at the store the other day. Each sprig was tied with a red ribbon and stapled into a clear plastic bag. A sign said something about Christmas tradition.

It reminded me that my grandfather used to hit the woods after the first killing frost and shoot mistletoe out of the treetops with his .22 rifle. He packaged the sprigs and sold them to earn some Christmas cash.

Because of Grandpa, we always had mistletoe at Christmas, and it was always hanging over some popular gathering spot, like the eggnog table or in the doorway to the kitchen. And somebody was always getting kissed as they passed under it.

Mostly, it was guys laying in wait for their favorite maiden to happen by. The girls meanwhile, tended to hang back and wait for their pick of the litter to show up. There was a lot of not so subtle maneuvering going on, and more than a little bit of trickery, like when the best looking guy would stand under the mistletoe only to step aside for Hagar the Horrible as soon as the pretty lass showed up.

The deal was, no one could refuse a kiss.

The tradition had its origins back in Druid days in England. Like most Druid things it involved white robes, lavish ceremony and promises of fertility on the sixth day of the moon.

The kissing part of the tradition was born in England when country villages looked like Christmas cards and people went from place to place by horse and sleigh.

Back then it was the girls who held sway under the mistletoe, while the guys kept their distance. A kiss under the mistletoe was considered a promissory note, pledging fidelity and a wedding. Girls who missed out understood they wouldn’t marry for at least a year.

Mistletoe is a parasite. Actually, a hemi-parasite which means it can live on its own for awhile, but only until it can tap into its host tree. Once established, it can also multiply to the point it kills its host — unusual since a parasite’s first responsibility is normally to keep its host healthy.

There are dozens of different species of mistletoe around the world, but for all you botany students, the one we have in the U.S. is phoradendron leucarpum.

What all of this has to do with Christmas kissing remains a mystery. Still, colliding with someone under the mistletoe still calls for a kiss.

And it doesn’t even have to be the sixth day of the moon.


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