Why people kiss under mistletoe
December 16, 2004
Whoever thought of standing under a parasitic plant to get a kiss?
Why would we want to snatch a kiss under a plant that sucks the life out of its host? How in the world did the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe originate?
Ancient Europeans thought mistletoe was sacred. Druid priests used it in sacrifices, thinking it brought good luck. Perhaps the kissing started with the Norsemen when Frigga, the goddess of love, shed tears of joy over her son Balder, god of the sun, when he was restored to life after being shot with an arrow.
Her tears turned into the white berries on the mistletoe plant. Frigga, in her joy, kissed everyone who passed beneath the tree on which the mistletoe grew.
The story ended with a decree stating that no harm should befall whoever stands under the humble mistletoe. They should only receive a kiss, as a token of love.
Kissing under a sprig of mistletoe is a tradition that has been around for hundreds of years.
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The 18th-century English credited mistletoe with a certain magical appeal. At Christmas time, a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, could not refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained unkissed, she could not expect to marry the following year.
The proper procedure for kissing under the mistletoe is to take one berry off for every kiss received.
When all the berries are gone, so are the kisses. Whether we believe it or not, it always makes for fun and frolic at Christmas celebrations.
Mistletoe is an aerial parasitic plant with no real roots of its own that grows on a number of different tree species.
It imbeds its root-like system (not actual roots) into its host to extract food and water. Mistletoe plants only survive on living tissue. If the host dies, the mistletoe also dies.
To control mistletoe infections, the infected limb must be pruned from the host plant.
On a tree with a widespread infection, cutting out all infected limbs can kill the tree. Mistletoe plants are either male or female.
Female plants produce berries, and male plants produce pollen. The berries can be very toxic if consumed by children or pets.
There are two kinds of mistletoe: leafy and dwarf. Dwarf mistletoe grows in the trees around northern Nevada. The leafy kissing kind is found on hardwood trees in warmer forested regions of the United States, especially portions of California, the Southwest, and South.
Birds feed on the berry-like fruits of these mistletoes and spread the seeds.
Mistletoe plants produce most of their own food and cause little damage to the host unless most of the tree is infected.
However, mistletoe can draw a lot of water from its host and seriously dry it out during a drought.
For more gardening information, contact me, 887-2252 or email@example.com, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at http://www.unce.unr.edu. “Ask a Master Gardener” by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
— JoAnne Skelly is the Extension Educator, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension for Carson City and Storey County.