It may be fresh, dried, or artificial, but chances are you hang mistletoe in your home during the holidays. And you have kissed someone under the mistletoe hanging over your head. But do you know anything about this custom or anything about the plant itself?
Drive along any road going south from Virginia during winter, you can see masses of this evergreen plant on tree after tree. But, plant is a misnomer for mistletoe. It is actually a parasite that lives in trees and feeds itself from nutrients contained in the host plant. It is spread by birds eating the berries and the seeds of the berries then passing through in waste and landing on a tree branch. But for the sake of simplicity in this post, I will continue to refer to mistletoe as a plant.
When I was younger, mistletoe was easily found where I lived. People went into the woods with rifles and arrows and literally shot the plant down out of the trees. Then they went around door to door, or to winter craft fests, and sold the plants in small bundles tied with pretty ribbons. People hung them in doorways, or other high places that would allow for people to stand underneath the mistletoe so they could kiss their partner. Some would take the mistletoe and create “kissing balls”, which might also contain other evergreen plants and herbs.
The known custom of hanging the mistletoe dates as far back as the 14th century, but it is the Victorian era interpretation that we are most familiar with today. During the Victorian era, when it was difficult for young lovers to speak to each other alone, a romantic and highly symbolic language was developed using plants and flowers to send messages back and forth to loved ones. Mistletoe was given the meaning of “kiss me” and scores of unmarried young women would line up to stand under the mistletoe during the Christmas festivities to receive a kiss from an unattached young man. Such bold and brazen behavior!
Some of you, like me, keep mistletoe in your home year-round for the good luck it brings. It can repel evil, while allowing the doors to the in-between to remain open for the beneficial visitations from the other side. I never throw away any mistletoe until I have a fresh sprig or bunch to replace it. Doing so would “throw my luck away”. As you can see from my pictures I have had mine for some years now. Where I live, it is hard to find these days due to over-harvest and the lack of the right kind of birds to consume the berries. However, with the internet, I find I can order some and may well do so this season. What is the proper procedure for disposal? You should always burn the old after you have brought in the new. Burning is a sacred disposal and shows respect. Why is that you ask? Well, that’s a long discussion and probably best saved for another post!
WARNING: Mistletoe is a highly poisonous plant (the berries are especially poisonous and should be removed) and must be kept away from children and animals.