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Spotlight: Mistletoe, The Parasite of Love.

Disclaimer: This post is for entertainment purposes only. The thoughts expressed herein are representative of the author only. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas! 

It’s finally here! The much anticipated day of gift giving and feasting. Without question the biggest holiday in the Christian and pseudo-christain cultures.

Celebrated by many peoples in most countries around the world,  Christmas is definitely well known and heavily celebrated. 

By now the children, and some adults, have dived into the pile of gifts surrounding the tree with vigor. Or they may be waiting until evening for the ritual of unwrapping (poor souls).

Whatever your Christmas traditions or rituals I hope one is sneaking a kiss underneath the mistletoe. 

The Affectionate Parasite 

The specific type of mistletoe commonly referred to and often seen paired to holly branches is the English variety Viscum album

“European mistletoe has smooth-edged, oval, evergreen leaves borne in pairs along the woody stem, and waxy, white berries that it bears in clusters of two to six.”1

Their roots, called haustorium, burrow into their host to extract water and nutrients. Interesting, but not yet kiss worthy. 

Let’s learn more! 

European Mistletoe is in the order of Santalales, a flowering plant found in many tropic and subtropic regions. 

Mistletoe is a common name for many types of  parasitic plants. 

Over 900 in fact! 

So far not a very romantic plant. Kind of the opposite? 

So how did this intrusive, yet comly plant gain such notoriety for spreading love and affection? 

Cultural Crash Course 

 Pagan and Celts: Regarded the white berries as symbols of male fertility, believing the seeds to resemble semen. 

Ancient Greeks: Called mistletoe “oak sperm”  (Hands down my favorite term and I think it needs to come back.)

Druidic mythology: May have played a role in the Ritual of Oak and Mistletoe.

Norse Mythology: Loki tricked Hodur into killing his twin Balder with a mistletoe arrow. Later it is believed the mistletoe became a symbol of peace as compensation for it’s part in the murder. 

Romans: associated mistletoe with peace, love, and understanding. It was hung in doorways as protection. 

Christians: It was hung still to protect people from witches and demons but also became a symbol under which lovers were expected to kiss. Continuing the belief that it was a symbol of fertility and vitality.

This continued for many centuries. 

By the 18th century it was entrenched in the Christmas celebrations and the serving class of victorians are credited with keeping the kissing tradition going.

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, to the common folk of the victorian era!

Which is funny when you think of how almost prudish Victorian culture was attributed to be, covering chair and table legs cause it could be considered sexual. In fact, sexually repressed is probably the best description. But apparently not among the more common folk or serving class. 

There was one tradition where a berry was plucked for each kiss. Once all the berries were gone the kissing must stop. If you hang mistletoe, consider bringing this one back.

 Then again this being 2020… it feels more like a high stakes game. Better luck next year. 

Other Uses and Toxicity

In Nepal divers mistletoe are used for medicinal purposes, including treating a broken leg. 

Carribean herbalists of African descent call certain mistletoe “god-bush” 

However do a lot of research if you are curious about the medicinal application of mistletoe as some deaths have been attributed to the consumption of mistletoe. Remember, over 900 species. 

So there you have it. 

Perhaps earlier cultures were unaware of the parasitic nature of mistletoe, even if they were aware of the toxicity of certain varieties. 

But overall, the beautiful evergreen plant was seen as a symbol of fertility, peace, and love. 

Fertility symbols are not uncommon among evergreen plants. It must have seemed hopeful and inspiring to many peoples that not all of God’s creations sleep during the cold winter months. 

A True Mixing Pot

Mistletoe has evolved from a fertility symbol to being forever connected with the Christmas holiday. 

A holiday that’s primary purpose is to remember the birth of Jesus Christ, who later died and was resurrected. 

Once again we can see how traditions change over time. People may convert from one creed to another but will often bring their traditions with them. The Christmas season is full of examples of this cultural blending. 

Whether they like it or not most christian holidays are a blend of pagan and christian beliefs. A blending that is so common and so thorough most don’t even realize it’s there. And those of us who do, don’t care. 

I can see the beauty in the many traditions and love the tapestry that they together weave. I wouldn’t have my Christmas any other way. And I hope you feel the same. 

Have a wonderful and joyful Christmas Day!

References
  1. Mistletoe quote
Mistletoe
Viscum album
Haustorium
Santalales
Druidic mythology
Ritual of Oak and Mistletoe
Victorians 
Twelve Christmas Traditions With Pagan Origins

About Author

Jenn Gaskin

After more than a decade in education I decided to turn my copious skills to writing. I have been freelance writing for Dancing Tree Gifts (formerly Sonora Kay Creations) since 2019. I wear many hats with DTG primarily copy editor, author, and web design.