Tuesday, December 4, 2018


While decorating our home for the Christmas holidays, I thought about all the various family traditions we celebrate during the season. First and foremost is our display of the Nativity Scene above the mantel and our decorated Christmas tree in the living room. Also we enjoy the popular customs like stockings and wreathes hung, candles all aglow, fruitcakes and cookies baked and shared, and oh yes, we never forget our well-worn elves on the shelves every year!

But there's another traditional decoration some folks display in their homes, including ours ... Mistletoe. What kind of plant is it and where does it come from, some may wonder. And where did the holiday tradition of kissing under the mistletoe originate?

Other than seeing mistletoe for sale in the stores at Christmas time, I’d never known much about it until after I was married and my husband pointed out the plants growing in the tops of oak trees along the roadsides. He reminisced about how in his youth, he’d climb trees to cut down the mistletoe and make wreathes which he sold door to door for extra money during the holidays. Because of that bit of nostalgia, we’ve always had a wreath on our door and/or a sprig of mistletoe hanging over a doorway at Christmas time.

Mistletoe is commonly found growing as a parasitic plant. There are two types of mistletoe. The mistletoe that is commonly used as a Christmas decoration (Phoradendron flavescens) is native to North America and grows as a parasite on trees from New Jersey to Florida. The other type of mistletoe, (Viscum Album) is of European origin.

The use of Mistletoe goes back to the times of ancient Druids. They didn’t kiss under it, but they believed the plant, especially a rare species that grew on oak trees, to have sacred powers including the ability to heal illnesses, protect against nightmares, and even predict the future. The Druids would hang the plant in their houses hoping it would bring them good luck and ward off evil spirits.

Mistletoe was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology and that’s where it’s believed the custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from. Mistletoe continued to be associated with fertility and vitality through the Middle Ages, and by the 18th century it had also become incorporated into Christmas celebrations around the world.

Victorian England is credited with perpetuating the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. The custom dictated that a man was allowed to kiss any woman standing underneath mistletoe and that bad luck would befall any woman who refused the kiss. One variation on the tradition was with each kiss a berry was to be plucked from the mistletoe and the kissing must stop after all the berries had been removed. Thus, the traditions which began with the European mistletoe were transferred to the similar American plant with the process of immigration and settlement.

So, how many of you decorate your homes with a sprig of mistletoe (real or artificial) and follow the romantic tradition of couples kissing when caught standing under it? Oh, by the way, I should mention that the plant is poisonous, so please, don’t eat it. Just Kiss!

To learn more about me and my books, please visit my website: www.cherikayclifton.com 


  1. Mistletoe grows abundantly in my area. And hanging mistletoe was something I loved to do because who doesn't like to be kissed? Any excuse would do.

    Here comes my botany training. It's actually symbiotic and doesn't really hurt the host tree. It's not something that we've figured out how to grow in a greenhouse. It's usually shot out of trees with buckshot so as not to damage the roots and assure a nice harvest next year, too. Birds need to eat the berries and pass the seeds through their digestive system and redeposit the seeds in the nooks of a tree's bark in order for the mistletoe to grow. So those green balls that you see on the bare branches of trees is mistletoe. (That top photo is a great pic!) Yes, it's poisonous so keep the real stuff far away from your pets and small children. Your hobby stores will probably carry some treated mistletoe made with real leaves and plastic white balls for seeds. Those plastic beads can also be choking hazards... Oh dear.

    Those wonderful Victorians also gave us lead tinsel. Yikes! Maybe we need some new traditions?

    1. I had to chuckle when you reminded me of the lead tinsel. Pretty, but what a mess to clean up after Christmas. Thank you for sharing more about your "botany training."

  2. With our many oaks in Sonoma County, came the mistletoe! When my husband I were group home parents in the early 70's, our girls harvested the plant, sold small batches for 25 cents and made their Holiday gift lists!

  3. Thanks, Arletta, for sharing your Christmas memories as group home parents, a very nice service on your part.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.