Why Mistletoe?

 

            Every year about this time many homes take an unusual change of appearance in order to prepare for the coming holidays.  Young trees are brought inside and decorated with pictures, lights and various ornaments.  Ivy is wrapped around columns and accented by red berries to help us feel the spirit.  Candles are placed in windows and stockings hung in front of fireplaces.  To top it all off a clump of mistletoe is fastened above the doorway to reward the passerby’s who cross paths just below it.

            So why is it that meeting someone under the mistletoe is predetermined to mean that you must give them a kiss?  The answer to this question is quite simple: there really is no reason.  Kissing beneath the mistletoe is simply a variation of many previous traditions that included this plant.  According to the November 1997 edition of The Tennessee Conservationist’s article, “Myths and Lore of Mistletoe”, the plant has been the subject of traditions for many years.  For instance, the Celtics used to harvest and burn mistletoe in summer in order to gain strength and immortality.  Mistletoe was revered because it grew primarily in oak trees.  In Europe this made it special due to the rarity of oak trees there.  Other groups hung mistletoe over sleeping babies in order to prevent them from being stolen by fairies.  Another legend has it that mistletoe provided the wood that the crucifix was made of.  Due to its participation in the crucifixion, the plant was cursed and made to live amongst the tops of trees forever. 

            The most modern use of mistletoe is for causing kisses.  This practice came into effect based on the belief that the powers of mistletoe could cure a broken heart and bring peace to quarreling lovers.  Thus, couples working through hard times would kiss underneath the mistletoe to help put the past behind them.  Over many, many years this practice has evolved into calling for anyone meeting under the mistletoe to give each other a friendly kiss.  Occasionally this old tradition can work in your favor, but it seems more often than not you’re stuck with some long lost relative who you’d just rather not be sharing smooches with. 

            Mistletoe is quite easy to find.  It can be found in nearly every hardwood forest in our region.  With the leaves already fallen, mistletoe stands out in the skyline as the only clumps of green remaining in the hardwood canopy.  One well placed shot with your trusty twelve-gauge can provide you with enough clumps to decorate every door in your house.  There is one thing decorators should be aware of.  Despite being used for medicinal purposes for many years, mistletoe can be quite poisonous, especially the berries.  So if you plan on observing this age-old tradition this year, make sure your pets or children are kept away from the plant.  And good luck to you, perhaps a meeting with your special someone underneath the mistletoe will ensure all your days of quarreling are put behind you.