Sweet emblem of returning peace, the heart's full gush and love's release,
Spirits in human fondness flow and greet the pearly mistletoe.
Oh! Happy tricksome time of mirth, giv'n to the stars of sky and earth!
May all the best of feeling know, the custom of the mistletoe.
Married and single, proud and free, yield to the season, trim with glee:
Time will not stay ... he cheats us so ... A kiss? ... 'tis gone ... the mistletoe.
(Unknown author. Written December, 1826)
The Facts About Mistletoe:
Order: Santalaleshemi-parasitic plant that survives on the branches of a host tree or shrub, varieties of Mistletoe can be found throughout the world. The unusual common name of the plant is thought to have originated from the German words "mist" meaning dung and "tang" meaning branch. (Um, yeah. I know. But, well, I don't make the facts, I just report them.) Anyway... Apparently our ancestors, the originators of language, were aware that mistletoe was spread from branch to branch through the medium of avian feces and titled the little "sucker" accordingly. (Ahem). Though types of mistletoe can be found throughout Europe, it is the eastern American variety, Phoradendron flavescens, which is grown commercially, and, therefore, most commonly recognized.
The Downside of Mistletoe:viscotoxins which can cause symptoms ranging from upset stomach to convulsions and even death -- a good reason to be sure that if your mistletoe is not high in the branches of a tree, it should be safely hung high in a doorway, out of the reach of animals and small children.
The Upside of Mistletoe:
Wikipedia: Mistletoe has been "recently recognized as an ecological keystone species, an organism that has a disproportionately pervasive influence over its community. A broad array of animals depend on mistletoe for food, consuming the leaves and young shoots, transferring pollen between plants, and dispersing the sticky seeds. The dense evergreen witches' brooms formed by the dwarf mistletoes (Arceuthobium species) of western North America also make excellent locations for roosting and nesting of the Northern Spotted Owls and the Marbled Murrelets. In Australia the Diamond Firetails and Painted Honeyeaters are recorded as nesting in different mistletoes. This behavior is probably far more widespread than currently recognized; more than 240 species of birds that nest in foliage in Australia have been recorded nesting in mistletoe, representing more than 75% of the resident avifauna.
A study of mistletoe in junipers concluded that more juniper berries sprout in stands where mistletoe is present, as the mistletoe attracts berry-eating birds which also eat juniper berries. Such interactions lead to dramatic influences on diversity, as areas with greater mistletoe densities support higher diversities of animals. Thus, rather than being a pest, mistletoe can have a positive effect on biodiversity, providing high quality food and habitat for a broad range of animals in forests and woodlands worldwide."
But, more pertinent than all that:
In Romanian traditions and among the gypsies, mistletoe is considered good luck. It is even today valued in rural areas of Romania for its medical and "magical" properties.
It's an old Christian tradition that it was the mistletoe "tree" that provided the wood of the Cross. After Christ's Crucifixion, the plant, humbled, shriveled to become the tiny parasitic vine it is today. The custom is that the mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal. It's supposed to be the last of Christmas greenery remaining at Candlemas, and can be left to remain hanging through the year to protect the house from lightning or fire until it 's replaced the following Christmas Eve.
Though most of the world knows mistletoe as a Christmas decoration, its use as such doesn't appear until the 18th century, and then it appears that the custom of kissing under the mistletoe originated with our winter-cozy cousins in Scandinavia. In Norse mythology, the mother of Baldr, the god of vegetation, frightened by a prophetic dream, made every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm her child. But Frigga forgot to exact the promise from the lowly mistletoe plant. The mischievous god Loki took advantage of this oversight, and tricked the blind god Höðr into killing Baldr with a spear fashioned from (you guessed it...) mistletoe.
(A depiction of the demise of Balder. Yikes!)Folks nowadays, though, don't know anything about the Norse mythology connection. We generally kiss under the mistletoe because it's as good an excuse as any.
I love everything about mistletoe.
(I'm gonna go catch me someone under a sprig right now. I have a lovely lot of potential victims around here...)