Friday, December 7, 2012

Kissing Under a Parasite

I'm sure everyone knows the age-old tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, but maybe not everyone knows that you're actually kissing under a parasite!

You heard me.

This morning my coworker gave a few of us a Christmas mistletoe, complete with glitter and bows. It was a thoughtful gift, totally unexpected, which is the kind of thing that makes Christmas so special. When we asked her where she bought the live plants, she said she didn't have to; it's a fungus and grows wild in the tops of trees. So, she and her daughters went around their back yard and shot them down.

She shot them down!

Okay, that's not really the point, but I did take a second to laugh about that. I love my coworker; she's so real!

So, my boss and I looked at each other and said, "So we've been kissing under fungus all these years?"

I added, "Hope it's not contagious."

After we went our separate ways, I decided to research this fungal infection of trees, and sure enough, she was almost right. Mistletoe is actually a parasitic plant, sucking the nutrients out of the trees they grow in. The little infector of deciduous things can actually kill their host.


The more I read, the more I couldn't figure out where this kissing tradition came into play. Wikipedia says it had something to do with Christianity, though the reasoning is vague. The most definitive answer said the custom may be of Scandinavian origin.

Seriously. We have kissed under mistletoe for how long, and no one knows why?!

If you go back, pre-Jesus and pre-kissing, I kind of like the mythological uses of mistletoe:

  • - a remedy for barrenness in animals and an antidote to poison;

  • - a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality), possibly due to a resemblance between the berries and semen;

  • - in Prose Edda, Baldr is killed by his brother, the blind god Höðr, by way of a mistletoe projectile;

  • - mistletoe is believed to be The Golden Bough of Aeneas, ancestor of the Romans.

Whatever the real purpose of mistletoe may be, tonight I will go home and hang mine and I will kiss my husband, and I'm sure my children will giggle and try to avoid the "kissing parasite" as much as possible.

What about you? Do you hang mistletoe? Will you think differently now that you know what it really is?


  1. Anonymous12/07/2012

    I believe the old Greek gods were offended by the plant so they condemned it to watch while people kissed.

  2. "a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality), possibly due to a resemblance between the berries and semen;"

    That is so gross and yet hilarious!!!

    Any excuse to get a kiss sounds good to me. :) What? I'm the kissing bandit.

  3. Anonymous12/07/2012

    Hahaha . . . I hang a kissing ball I bought at Pier One:-)

  4. This is hilarious! I think this is true for a lot of crazy traditions out there. We do them and have no idea why. Now, I'll have something interesting to share in the upcoming Christmas party.


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