I understand now that mistletoe is just an excuse for a woman to be kissed. It doesn’t work the same way for guys, at least not for me. A clever woman, if she wants to be kissed, will strategically place herself beneath a sprig of mistletoe just as the man of her desires appears. She may as well be wearing a sign that says “take me, I’m yours.” I, on the other hand, could wait under mistletoe until I qualified for Social Security and not much would happen.
But why mistletoe? Why not a piece of women’s lingerie, or a dead carp? Apparently, it all started in Scandinavia a very long time ago. The ancient people of Europe revered mistletoe because it grew between earth and Heaven in the limbs of trees and because it remained green throughout the winter. According to Norse myth, mistletoe is the plant of peace. If enemies met by chance beneath mistletoe, they would lay down their arms and avoid fighting until the next day. So, it didn’t actually bring peace, but it did delay war for a day. Perhaps long enough to tie some more mistletoe up in the trees if you were out-numbered.
Ladies, when you are feeling romantic and laying plans for capturing your beau under the mistletoe, keep a few things in mind. First of all, consider the name “mistletoe.” It’s a joining of two Indo-European words, which are mistle and tag. Mistle means bird poo. Tag means twig. Put them together and you have bird poo on a stick. Apparently, in pre-scientific Europe, the locals thought mistletoe grew out of bird dropping left on tree limbs. I’m feeling amorous just thinking about it.
Another thing to consider is that mistletoe is a parasite, which I think aptly, describes most of my relationships. In the interest of full disclosure, mistletoe is only a partial parasite. It uses photosynthesis to convert sunshine into energy, the same as any other green plant. However, it also sends a special root through the bark of the host tree to extract nutrients.
The final piece of the ‘kissing under the parasitic bird poo on a stick puzzle’ cannot be fully appreciated until we understand that mistletoe was thought by the ancient Celts to be both an aphrodisiac and a medicine with abortive properties. Apparently, the ancient Celts were doing a lot more under the mistletoe than just kissing. Mistletoe let them warm the oven without worrying about a bun in there. In the old days, when a Celtic woman stood under the mistletoe, it meant, “I’m available and you don’t have to worry about a surprise.” At least that’s what she wanted her man to believe.
My guess is the Victorian age took the fun out of mistletoe and reduced it to just kissing. At one time, when a man kissed a woman under the mistletoe, he would pluck off a single white berry. When all the berries had been picked, no more kissing was allowed under that sprig of mistletoe. Modern women have dismissed this part of the tradition as too limiting.
Today we have artificial mistletoe, which changes the game completely. With artificial mistletoe, you can kiss anyone (who can’t get away) anywhere remotely within the approximate vicinity, as often as you wish, for as long as you like. Or until the green plastic fades.
Gary Horton is a novelist and blogs at: ivebeenthinking.typepad.com.