As we make our way through the Christmas season, I’m reminded of one of my favorite Holiday traditions. It’s the hanging of mistletoe above doorways, in order to possibly procure a kiss from one’s spouse, partner, significant other, friend, or possibly a complete stranger. As I always do before writing a simple observation of everyday life, I did some research on what mistletoe is, it’s history, and how it’s used in today’s modern world. I did find out that mistletoe is a parasitic plant, which forces its roots into the bark of a host tree, and sucks the nutrients from it like a vampire. It’s a white-berried greenery, found in bunches the size of a large cabbage. It grows high atop hard wood trees such as oak or elm. It has also been known to infest apple trees. Many people don’t know this, but the leaves and berries, are extremely poisonous, and can cause harm, or even death if eaten.
How then, did a parasitic, and harmful plant, become an important part of Christmas traditions in many countries. Many historians trace mistletoe’s origins to either Scandinavian legends, or to pagan Druid priests, in what is now modern day England, who revered it as a central part of ancient Solstice celebrations. In many European countries, it was seen as having magical powers, could bestow fertility on newly married couples, was useful as an aphrodisiac, and could protect against evil and unforeseen occurrences like plague, bad harvests, and visits from in-laws.
It is widely recognized that many mistletoe traditions have their origins in 18th century England. It was commonly believed at the time, that a man was allowed to kiss a woman standing underneath mistletoe, and bad luck would befall any lady who refused to kiss. If for some reason she remained unkissed; it was thought that she would not marry in the next year. After each kiss, one of the white berries from the plant would be picked. The kissing would stop, only when all the berries had been picked, and only the green leaves remained. It is widely believed that this particular tradition, lead to the great mistletoe shortage of 1848, when young men would hang bunches of berry-filled mistletoe the size of modern-day school buses, above doorways. I don’t know if it’s true, but its been rumored that this also lead to the eventual invention of Chapstick and breath mints, and the proliferation of divorce lawyers.
Have any of you ever heard of what’s called a kissing ball? Now, remember, this is a family oriented blog. If any of you are a little naughty, and thought of reversing the two words – don’t do it! Here, at simple observations of everyday life, we want all of you to enjoy a wonderful Holiday, receive many gentle kisses while underneath hanging mistletoe, and avoid finding enormous bags of coal under your Christmas tree. A kissing ball, is actually a large, spherical arrangement of mistletoe, festooned with bright ribbons, and ornaments.
This particular use of mistletoe was popularized by English household servants during the later part of the 18th century. I can understand why. Most of these servants were indentured, worked for little or no pay, performed back-breaking tasks from dusk to dawn, slept in horse stables, ate table scraps, and saw no future of a better life for themselves. I’ll bet, one of them was serving food, at their masters Christmas party when they spied the traditional mistletoe, being used to entice kisses. Afterward, the servants gathered for their own simple feast of porridge, and stale bread. During this pitiful celebration, the servant stood up and said, “Listen guys. Things are pretty rough here. What do you say we liven things up a little? How about we make a gigantic kissing ball out of mistletoe, and go totally nuts. Our Christmas celebration, will make a swinger’s party look like a Sunday church service?
A few years ago, I watched a YouTube video of some guy who constructed a device, that looked like a miniature crane which was attached to his back, and dangled mistletoe above his head. The guy looked like he had just fallen off the cover of a gamer magazine. The crazy thing is, as he walked around, women were coming up and giving him kisses; many on the lips. I’m almost positive this had to be some kind of stunt using friends or actors as willing subjects, rather than women who were supposedly mesmerized by the power of the mysterious mistletoe plant. I have a feeling that if I covered every inch of my body with mistletoe, erected a circus trapeze in my living room, and did a series of thrilling, acrobatic, and spectacular moves above dozens of women partying below, I’d be lucky to even get a quick peck on the cheek- and that would be from my wife!
Though, there are many theories, and just as many stories of the origins of the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe; no one is absolutely sure who started it. Personally, I think it was invented by a desperate, seventy-four-year-old spinster with a mustache, and a big mole on her face with a six-inch hair growing out of it. “Do you hear that Aunt Edna? I’m on to you this year. Don’t think you can keep handing me those eggnogs until my bladders full, hang mistletoe over the bathroom door, and wait there!”
Have you ever been at Christmas party’s, and there always seems to be, one pitiful looking guy who hangs out all night by the mistletoe, sipping wine spritzers. By midnight people are starting to say to each other, “For the love of God, could someone just go over and kiss the poor miserable loser.” The sad things is – the guys usually me! You may have also noticed that that the mistletoe is always hung over the only exit from a room, and you’re usually trapped like a rat. If you’re like me, you do one of two things. You either make a mad dash through the door, climb out the nearest window and drop to the ground at least three floors below, or you hold your head up high, stand tall and proud, and face your fate head on. “Okay, Aunt Edna. Just one, and it has to be on the cheek. I’m sorry, but you’re mustache tickles.”