Botanically speaking, the leathery plant known as mistletoe is as charming as its established place in folklore. There are two types of mistletoe. The American genus is actually parasitic and grows on the branches of trees. It gouges its roots into the accommodating, however unsuspecting, host and depletes it of vital nutrients. What better icon to associate with the potentially wearing folly of Christmas? Whether racing to find the perfect gift to illustrate the depth of our regard for loved ones, or obtaining the ideal Christmas card snapshot that encapsulates the year at a glance, or while experiencing the inevitable cheer induced by untangling last year’s lights, we are unquestionably infused with holiday spirit - however you define it. A parasitic plant may in fact best represent our Yuletide practices and, as a byproduct, invite unsolicited kisses from strangers and loved ones alike.
Mistletoe’s place in tradition and custom includes ritual sacrifice and emasculation - things that in my modest opinion fail to inspire any sort of affection in its presence. Ancient Celtic Druids would sacrifice two white bulls (which I am assuming made the colored bulls grateful to be so) whilst praying for the prosperity of those who were in possession of the mistletoe. From my limited understanding of the tradition and judging by the outcome of the ceremony, it would seem the white bulls were not in possession of the otherwise sought after plant. The ancient Greeks would hang it over the doorways to their homes and stables to prevent the entrance of witches which makes me wonder why they would restrict its use to Christmas. One might assume that witches entering one’s home would be discouraged all year long.
In Scandinavia, it was a common practice for enemies to stand under a sprig of mistletoe to declare a truce. In this spirit, warring spouses would kiss under the mistletoe to make up. I suppose then, you could likely conclude that any couple caught kissing under the mistletoe at the plenitude of Christmas parties this year are in the throes of martial discourse and, unless you intend to make yours public, I would avoid the botanically freeloading decoration.
The holiday season is wrought with traditions - those longstanding and those newly conceived by families everywhere intent on establishing customs for their children to carry forward. In my house we have a family nickname. Each year we have a Christmas ornament made with that name on it and the names of all creatures great and small that were part of our family in that year. It is something that my husband and I started 15 years ago and unwrapping the anthology of ornaments has become a highlight of our tree decorating.
Tonight, as we decorated our customarily scraggly tree that each year we collectively determine no other self respecting family would want and therefore needs our home for the holiday, my daughter kissed me gently on the forehead for no reason. There was, as always, no mistletoe in our home, no bulls were harmed in the incident, no sign of witches or marital discourse was evident, and yet the warmth and love that is unmistakably Christmas was ever present.